illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen
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What is the point of view of the narrator in Sense and Sensibility?

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In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen uses what's called a third-person omniscient point of view. This is where the narrator sees all and knows all. Such a point of view gives us privileged access to the interior life of each character—their thoughts, their emotions, and their hopes and aspirations.

However, just because the narrator can tell us what's going on inside each character's head, it doesn't mean that she should give them all equal consideration. In that sense, the point of view of this novel is limited. The main focus of the narration is Elinor (who represents the "sense" mentioned in the title). This means that we come to know her far better than anyone else in the story—certainly better than the more emotional Marianne. Besides, Austen is much too good of a writer to tell us everything that's going on inside her characters' minds; there does need to be an appropriate level of ambiguity and subtlety to keep us interested.

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The narrative point of view in Sense and Sensibility comes through Elinor, who represents the "sense" that counterbalances Marianne's "sensibility" (emotionalism). The story, in other words, is told through Elinor's eyes. While Austen uses a third-person narrator (as she typically does in her novels), Elinor is still the protagonist, so much of the information revealed in the novel is only revealed to the reader when Elinor finds out. Because Elinor only has access to limited information and can jump to wrong conclusions, we as readers are also limited in what we know.

The omniscient narrator could have informed us from the start that Edward and Lucy Steele were secretly engaged but makes us wait until Lucy confides in Elinor to find out that bit of intel. More of a surprise comes at the end, when Elinor assumes, when Lucy returns as Mrs. Ferrars, that she must have married Edward, dashing all of Elinor's hopes. In fact, Lucy has switched allegiances at the last minute and married Robert Ferrars, Edward's foppish brother.

Austen loves to surprise the reader, and with her third-person narrator in Sense and Sensibility, who withholds information for its dramatic potential, she does this quite well.

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The point of view of the narrator in Sense and Sensibility refers to the perspective under which the narrative is told depending on the events that surround the plot. In this case, the point of view comes directly from the perspective of Elinor, who is the heroine and main character of the story.

Although Sense and Sensibility conveys the experiences of many other characters including Elinor's younger sister, Marianne, we do not get as many particular introspective details about her such as thoughts or emotions. We do get those from Elinor, who is constantly analyzing situations throughout the story.

To illustrate, think how much easier it would have been for us, as readers, to predict Willoughby's actions if only we had had a chance to see what was going inside Marianne's head. We only know that she was in love, that she had hoped for an engagement, and that she was heartbroken after he left her. It was not until much later that we find out, through Elinor's inquiry, that Willoughby had never proposed to Marianne and that maybe Marianne had taken Willoughby much more seriously than she should have.

Contrastingly, we know everything that goes on in Elinor's mind, and we can certainly appreciate her feelings for Edward through all the obstacles that come in between them.

This being said, Elinor Dashwood is the main character of the novel, the heroine, and the character through which the narrator exposes the point of view of the story.

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