illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

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The major conflict in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Summary:

The major conflict in Sense and Sensibility revolves around the contrasting personalities and romantic entanglements of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor embodies sense and rationality, while Marianne represents sensibility and emotion. Their differing approaches to love and life create tension as they navigate societal expectations and personal disappointments to ultimately find happiness.

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What is the major conflict in Sense and Sensibility?

The title of the book itself could be construed as representing the main conflict. Elinor is the Dashwood sister with "sense" in the story, whereas Marianne is, for the most part, a slave to her sensibility, or emotions. As well as her undivided attention, Marianne gives Willoughby a lock of her hair. The bestowal of something so intimate symbolizes the giving of Marianne's heart to her new beau. In the long run, however, once Marianne comes to her senses, she will find a suitable husband for herself instead of lavishing her attentions on the likes of Mr. Willoughby.

There are also a number of metaphors in the book which pertain to the sense versus sensibility conflict. A metaphor can be defined as a person, place, thing, or event that stands both for itself and for something beyond itself. In the scene where Mr. Willoughby assists Marianne after her accident, he's out hunting, and he's introduced to us as carrying a gun, with two pointers playing around him. Metaphorically speaking, Willoughby is hunting Marianne; she is his quarry. And just as a hunt's quarry ends up being put through a lot of pain and suffering, so too does poor Marianne suffer emotionally from her ill-advised involvement with the frightful Willoughby. In this particular case, sensibility prevails over sense.

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What is the major conflict in Sense and Sensibility?

As the title of the novel indicates, the major conflict is between sense and sensibility. By sense, Jane Austen means reason, logic and self-control. By sensibility, she means a heightened sensitivity to emotions and feelings. Each of the title characters represents an excess of one of these poles. Elinor displays "sense," and it is through her eyes that most of the novel's action unfolds. She is the oldest of the three sisters, rational, controlled and sensible to a degree that can appear unfeeling and which shuts others out of her emotional life. Her younger sister, Marianne, on the other hand, represents an excess of sensibility, wearing her emotions on her sleeve, in need of greater restraint and self-control as she rushes headlong into assuming Willoughby will marry her, despite the fact that neither of them has much money. Austen explores the damage that both too much sense and too much sensibility can cause, but because the book is told from Elinor's point of view, its critique of sensibility is the stronger of the two: Marianne's emotionalism is often rude and hurtful, and in the end she almost kills herself from her excessive reactions to events. These two character studies illustrate the importance of finding a middle ground between effusiveness and restraint, but most pointedly show the folly of self-centered emotionalism, both to oneself and to the larger world.

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What is the major conflict in Sense and Sensibility?

The conflict with the most scope and influence inSense and Sensibilityis wealth vs. poverty, because of its effects on so many relationships in the novel.  This conflict finds its way into the Dashwood family, forcing them to find cheaper lodging after their father's death. 

The wealth vs. poverty conflict also affects Edward's choice in whom he can marry, risking the wrath of his family were he to marry too 'low.'  Willoughby and Marianne's relationship is also subject to the poverty vs. wealth conflict, as his decision to abandon Marianne comes from his need to procure a large dowry (after having been cut off from his inheritance).  The main story line of the novel revolves around the idea of the penniless Dashwood sisters attempting to balance love and a sensible marriage without the advantage of a dowry. 

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What is the main conflict of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

As the title suggests, Austen's main point in Sense and Sensibility is to philosophize or moralize about two different perspectives or personality types. Hence, since Austen uses two sisters to make her point, the main conflict in the book is actually twofold. The first main conflict in the story is between the two sisters. Elinor rightly judges Marianne as being too irrationally emotional, or relying too much on her sensibilities, while Marianne incorrectly judges Elinor as having no heart. The second main conflict is that Marianne finds herself in conflict with herself because all of her romantic ideals lead her to not only fall in love with a man of ignoble character but also to destroy herself, nearly causing her death. Hence, the first main conflict is character vs. self.

When Marianne first meets Willoughby, both she and the reader believe that he is the ideal man. When Marianne slips and falls, twisting her ankle, while walking through the downs with Margaret, Willoughby appears out of nowhere in the rain and carries her home safely. He is handsome, charming, and gallant. As Marianne phrases it, "His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story" (Ch. 9). However, we soon learn that his character is actually far less than ideal. Not only is he extravagant, we later learn that he is guilty of seducing and impregnating Colonel Brandon's charge, Eliza. Marianne's heartbreak over Willoughby lead to a raging fever that nearly takes her life, emphasizing the character vs. self conflict. However, eventually Marianne realizes that, like her sister, she could have born her heartache with more "fortitude"; she further realizes that her passionate, uncontrolled feelings led her to be selfish and hurtful towards others, especially Elinor. Marianne instead later resolves that "[her] feelings shall be governed and [her] temper improved," leading to the resolution of the conflict (Ch. 46).

Similarly to Marianne, Elinor also suffers a broken heart when she learns that the man she has fallen in love with is secretly engaged to Lucy Steele. However, unlike Marianne, she does not let others see the nature of her sorrow, one reason being that she swore to Lucy that she would keep their engagement a secret. Nonetheless, Elinor must remain the strong one. When Marianne is crushed by Willoughby, Elinor must comfort her; when Marianne learns of Edwards engagement, again, Elinor must comfort her. When Marianne asks Elinor how she bore it all, Elinor explains that she would rather selflessly spare anyone from knowing how she feels and making them feel equal pain. Marianne believes that Elinor really didn't feel much for Edward. But as Elinor argues:

Then, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely--not even what I owed to my dearest friends--from openly shewing that I was very unhappy. (Ch. 37)

Hence, we see that the nature of the character vs. character conflict between sisters is that Marianne believes she should be self-serving towards her emotions while Elinor believes that emotions should be controlled and that one must be selfless and pay attention to duty at all times. This conflict is resolved when Marianne sees the error of her ways.

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What is the main conflict of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

As the title indicates, two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, represent sense and sensibility, or as we might say today, logic and emotionalism. Elinor is too likely to hide her emotions and Marianne is too much of a drama queen. Both attitudes are too extreme and cause each sister a different kind of conflict. Elinor is so cool her beloved Edward isn't quite sure about her. Also, when Elinor finds out he is secretly engaged to Lucy Steele, she stuffs down all her upset, so she doesn't get the emotional support she needs from the people who care about her.

On the other hand, Marianne is so emotional she jumps to the conclusion that she and Willoughby will be engaged, even though neither has money and he can't afford to marry a woman without a large dowry. She can't hide her emotions and exposes herself to humiliation when she realizes Willoughby has rejected her. She also almost dies because her distress is so extreme.

Elinor has to learn to show more emotion and Marianne has to learn to exercise more commonsense and self-control. The conflict between sense and sensibility is solved through finding a balance between the two ways of living.

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