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Sense and Sensibility

As with other texts by Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility explores social hierarchies and codes of conduct. The two main protagonists, Elinor and Marianne, epitomize “sense” and “sensibility” respectively. Possessing “sense” means that Elinor maintains composure, appropriate conduct and language befitting any situation. She values propriety above her own comfort. In contrast, Marianne is flighty, prone to emotional outbursts, speaking inappropriately, and acting on impulse. This plays out in the text as they each fall in love with different men.

The love relationship scenario allows Austen to highlight the extent of control that women have over their social circumstances. Elinor is powerless by her self-imposed societal constraints when she learns that the man she loves is betrothed to another. Marianne is put into a similar situation but reacts quite differently. She is emotional and overwrought where Elinor maintains a veneer of calm detachment. Elinor’s reaction is self-protective and Marianne’s brings her more grief. The resolution of the story indicates that Austen feels the possession of sense is essential for women.

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