Jane Austen’s novel “Sense and Sensibility” is the story of two sisters who enter a downward slide from living in luxury to adapting to a new life in a small woodland cottage. The novel centers on issues of class, romance and economics. Austen is celebrated as a classic novelist and a pioneer of both realistic fiction and women’s literature; her works are frequently taught in school settings of all levels. "Sense and Sensibility," adapted by Ang Lee in 1995 into a critically acclaimed film, is one of her more popular and beloved works.
The Difference Between "Sense" and "Sensibility"
One crucial issue in the novel is the distinction between the two key words of the title: "sense" and "sensibility." Discuss how Austen depicts these traits through the two Dashwood sisters. One of the sisters, Elinor, is often bound by sense, making her appear too cautious and unemotional. The other daughter, Marianne, represents sensibility and can be carried away by her passions and recklessness. Compare and contrast the sisters and discuss how they mature through the course of the novel.
Response to Death and Tragedy
In the novel the two main characters both have different responses to the death of their father, which results in their having to move to a small cottage and highlights the position of women in 19th-century British society. Elinor chooses to bottle up her feelings whereas Marianne wears her emotions on her sleeve. This depicts how different individuals behave differently when tragedy befalls them. The book, therefore, can be used to discuss how different people react to death or any tragic event.
Perception of Love
The story is also about the budding romance between Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood. In the book, the two sisters have different initial ideas about love, particularly in relation to Edward. The two sisters describe Edward before he is ever introduced to the reader. This gives the reader a preconceived notion about Edward, depending on which sister readers choose to believe. These narrative constructions of Edward's character can be dissected to better understand the characters and their ideas about love, romance and the opposite sex. Consider how the two accounts foreshadow later plot developments and the sisters' different experiences of romantic love and disappointment.
Views of Marriage
Although Austen herself never married, her views on the institution of marriage are often present in her novels. Discuss the various marriages depicted in "Sense and Sensibility" and what they reveal about marriage in the early 19th century and Austen's own opinions of it. Consider, too, that classical comedy typically concludes with marriage and the integration of individuals into society. Discuss this subject in relation to what finally happens with the two Dashwood sisters and the way marriage often serves as closure in Austen's novels.
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