illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen
Start Free Trial

What literary devices does the author use in Sense and Sensibility for describing female characters?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Austen uses juxtaposition to show the contrasts and similarities among the Dashwood sisters and their mother. Elinor Dashwood is described as possessing a "strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment" that made her a good counselor to her more emotional mother. While Mrs. Dashwood could be somewhat melodramatic and imprudent,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Austen uses juxtaposition to show the contrasts and similarities among the Dashwood sisters and their mother. Elinor Dashwood is described as possessing a "strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment" that made her a good counselor to her more emotional mother. While Mrs. Dashwood could be somewhat melodramatic and imprudent, Elinor is measured and calm. She is certainly "affectionate" and has "strong" feelings, "but she knew how to govern them," which is a quality that her mother had never learned. Her sister, Marianne, refused to learn it. In "ability," Marianne and Elinor are equals, but Marianne is "eager in everything" and lacks the coolness and judgment possessed by Elinor because she values intense emotion so highly. Marianne is "everything but prudent" and is very much like her mother in this way. The youngest of the three sisters, Margaret, has "imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance," though, at thirteen, she lacks Marianne's sense.

The character of these four female characters are revealed through their juxtaposition with one another so that we can more clearly see how they are dissimilar or similar. In this part of the text, the female characters are certainly most often characterized via direct characterization, when the narrator describes or reveals character with descriptions such as those above.

Mrs. John Dashwood, the wife of the Dashwood daughters's half-brother, is more indirectly characterized. Instead of describing her directly by saying, perhaps, that she is selfish and manipulative, the narrator describes her behavior and allows the reader to extrapolate. This shows how reluctant she is to help her husband's half-sisters, despite their loss of father, home, and fortune. She even tries to persuade her husband that his father did not actually want him to give the girls any money.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team