Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park explores important moral themes woven into a seeming Cinderella story of a poor girl taken in and then neglected by proud, wealthy relatives. Fanny Price is slighted by three of her four confident, energetic cousins. While they pursue their favorite activities, she is required to run endless errands and perform tedious tasks for her aunts. Having little share in the friendships of her cousins, she is happiest alone in her room, a cold, cheerless place furnished with old, cast-off things. Small, timid, and seemingly docile, Fanny does not seem to fit the image of the romantic heroine, but she grows in strength of body and mind as the novel progresses. By the end of the story, her strength of character and unshakable moral convictions win for her the praise, love, and social position she desires.
When the story opens, the unfortunate young cousin from a large, poor family is terrified by the grandeur of Mansfield Park. After she becomes accustomed to life there, she enjoys staying in the background, assisting her aunts and meekly accepting her inferior position in a luxurious household. She feels content with her place in the world. While most of her relatives think her boring and stupid, cousin Edmund, who seeks out her friendship, grows to respect and care for her. With his kind support, she overcomes her timidity to ride horseback for outdoor exercise and to speak up for herself. These instances show that Fanny is capable of a more active life when encouraged.
In fact, Fanny is the only one at Mansfield Park with convictions and character strong enough to refuse to act in the amateur play production, an activity Sir Thomas has forbidden. Her relatives, when tempted by the chance to impress or placate someone they admire, turn away from what they have been taught to believe right and thus betray the values of the family. Fanny alone remains faithful to the routines and rules of the household. Her cousins are amazed by her courage, and Aunt Norris calls her refusal to oblige the others positively wicked.
Later, Fanny is pressured by relatives and friends to accept the marriage proposal of the wealthy, charming Henry Crawford. She again shows surprising strength of character by refusing to follow the wishes of others when they go against her own values. Sir Thomas finds her decision “offensive, and disgusting...
(The entire section is 973 words.)