How do Elinor and Marianne Dashwoods' characterizations compare and contrast, especially with respect to their grief over their father's death and over lost love, as we see in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?
As the title suggests, the main difference between the characterizations of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, is that Elinor is described as relying on sense to govern her actions, while Marianne believes on governing all things with her emotions, or sensibilities. One good chapter to use to examine their differences in characterization, especially in terms of how they handle their father's death, is the very first chapter.
In the first chapter, Austen uses some paragraphs of direct characterizations to describe Elinor as being sensible, rational, calm, cool, collected, and the one their mother relies on for advice. Marianne, on the other hand, while recognized as "sensible and clever," is also characterized as being "eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation" (Ch. 1). In other words, Marianne believes in being governed by unrestrained emotions. As a result of their different beliefs concerning emotions, both Marianne and her mother believe in being violent about their grief over their father, while Elinor believes in controlling her grief so that she can carry on with what needs to be done. As Austen relays, "The agony of [Marianne's and Mrs. Dashwood's] grief, which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again" (Ch. 1). In contrast, "Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself" (Ch. 1).
We see the same difference in the two sisters' reaction to love. Both are equally brokenhearted. But Elinor believes it's her duty not be selfish by indulging in her grief. She believes that she must keep silent due to her promise to Lucy; but she also believes it is her duty to protect Marianne and her mother from being hurt by the news. In contrast, Marianne believes that giving way to her violent emotions is her way of showing how much she loved Willoughby. She doesn't realize, but then later does, that giving way to her emotions is actually being cruel to both herself and those who care for her that are trying to console her.