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Sense and Sensibility is a novel by Jane Austen published in 1811 and focuses on telling a story of two young girls, Elinor and Marianne, Dashwood sisters, as they come of age. It is an incredible story that can best be understood in the context of the era it was written. The novel was largely influenced by the increasing popularity of romanticism that was typified, mostly, by William Wordsworth during the time. It is due to this that, as the title of the novel suggests, Austen deliberately embraces and cultivates aspects of sense and sensibility – passionate emotions and deep feelings. The author employs a variety of narrative techniques strategically to make the story captivating too the readers.
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By virtue of being a story, the plot is the first noticeable narrative technique used by the Austen to intensify her storytelling capabilities in the novel. A story is primarily a journey and plot is a technique used to identify the main parts and describe the events in a story – it is the foundation of a novel upon which setting and characters are established (Denning 43). Sense and Sensibility incorporates an excellent structure by incorporating exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and the resolution as the elements of an ideal plot.
Exposition refers to the beginning of a story where the setting is created and the main problem introduced. We enter the story with a very sad scene, Henry Dashwood dies, and before he does, he bequeaths his son, John all the family wealth and explains to him that his sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are not entitled to anything since they are from a second marriage. He further directs John to take care of his teenage sisters, and this is where the main issue with the story kicks in, his wife Fanny is not in support of the idea of John taking care of the sisters and also asks him to kick them out. They, therefore, move into a random tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere, and this is where the main story of the novel starts. This is when the rising action element of the plot is introduced.
Rising action is arrived at when the main problem or conflict is created by a series of events, and this is sufficiently portrayed in a story by the two main characters (Denning 46). Elinor encounters Edward, Fanny’s brother; they fall for each other. The problem, however, is that Edward is engaged and does not reciprocate or rather display his love for Elinor until towards the end of the story when he is freed from his marriage. Marianne, on the other hand, meets a Willoughby that she deeply falls for but ends up playing with her emotions by leaving her for someone else. These series of events steadily take a reader to the climax point of the story.
The story has an outstanding climax towards the end, and most of the events surround or involve the two main characters, Elinor and Marianne with most of the dramatic unfolding covering Marianne. Heartbroken by Willoughby’s engagement to Miss Grey, Marianne grieves to the point she gets critically ill, and her life is believed to be in danger. To help out with the situation, Willoughby elicits Elinor’s pity by demonstrating his regretful actions of abandoning her sister. Elinor, on the other hand, suffers in silence when she finds out she can no longer be with Edward because she is engaged. Edward, however, tries so hard to be with Elinor and the action he takes towards this costs him the family inheritance. Resolution and falling action are marked by Edward asking Elinor for her hand in marriage and Marianne recovering from her illness and finally realizing that she could have never been happy with Willoughby due to his immoral, erratic and inconsistent ways.
Characterization is also another important narrative technique employed in the story. The main two characters, Elinor and Marianne, and perfectly personified to relate to the title and the main concept of the novel – sensible and sensibility – in reference to romanticism. Austen models Elinor as an intelligent and loving but also adequately wise to realize that emotions should not be mixed or overcome good sense – she is, therefore, a sensible character. Marianne, on the other hand, also possesses these qualities except for wisdom Austin describes her “everything but prudent.” Marianne is very dramatic, and this is depicted plots and scenes she is in.
Elinor is depicted as the protagonist of the story with Marianne standing out as the antagonism. Stephen Denning (2006) defines a protagonist as a leading character in a story with many roles and purposes. A protagonist is usually loved, admired and portrayed in a saint-like manner. Such characters make the key decisions in a narrative, and the consequences of the choices fall on them. Elinor is a selfless individual who guides and sticks by her sister’s side regardless of the situations she goes through. Even when Marianne was ailing from the heartbreak, “Elinor fought for Marianne’s every breath and waited for every heartbeat” (Austen 67) depicting her kind and caring personality especially towards her sister. Her sister, the antagonists, makes some awful decisions especially regarding her love life that also impacts Elinor. Towards the end of the story, Marianne, to a large extent, values Elinor’s more moderate behaviors and conduct and resolves to model herself like her (Austen 330). All these aspects make Elinor and exceptional fictional character who draws respect and admiration from the readers.
As a romantic novel published and influenced by the era of romanticism, love, relationship, and marriage are the main themes of the story. Austen portrays love as a splendored thing and at the same time, presents it as a troubling thing. The plot revolves around love and marriage with most of the characters experiencing love at some point, others in relationships and marriages. At the beginning of the story, we encounter the first instance of marriage where Austen mentions Dashwood is married to two wives. The book then takes us through the journey of Elinor and Marianne who, in the beginning, are unmarried, go through a series of love and relationship experiences and then end up getting married.
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Austin takes a deviation from the general perception of love being a beautiful thing to dramatize its potential harm and its dangerous sides. The author uses the relationship between Marianne and Willoughby to bring out the dangers of love. At first, the two characters fall deeply for each other, and at that very instant, they appear as a perfect match for one another. However, as the plot develops, Willoughby is a flawed human being with a sense of immorality and focus on material possession. This makes him abandon Marianne for another woman who she marries not because he loves her but for the wealth she possesses. The breakup impacted Marianne heavily to the point she almost died.
Another facet of love presented by the author is the element of the challenges a person goes through to attain true happiness, and this is in reference to the love story between Edward and Elinor. These two characters are in love with each other, but they are incapable of being together because one of them is secretly engaged. Elinor learns this but does not through everything away just yet but also does not demonstrate her love for Edward as much. Elinor suffers in silence as a result of this, and things worsen when Edwards fiancé, Lucy Steele, rubs it on her face that she had been engaged to Edward for too long for him to consider being with her. Edward, too, just to be with Elinor, loses his inheritance that goes to his younger brother. This goes to show that true happiness is not easy, it takes time, and it is accompanied by a series of challenges that need overcoming and sacrifices to make.
The theme of wealth and material possession has also been conveyed by the story, and the author ties it to the concept of love and relationship. In most instances, wealth does not go hand in hand with love in the sense that, the urge for money and wealth comes between true emotions in people. After inheriting his father’s wealth, John, under the influence of his wife overlooks his responsibilities for his sisters and instead of supporting them, he sends them away. Another instance is when Edward is blackmailed by his family to end his engagement with Elinor or risk losing his family inheritance; he chooses to be with the one he loves at the cost of all the wealth.
Lastly, and most importantly, the relationship between Marianne and Willoughby has been strategically used to demonstrate the role of wealth in a successful/unsuccessful relationship. After realizing he has lost his family inheritance and also highly driven by material possession, Willoughby breaks up with Marianne for a wealthy lady whom he does not even love. Willoughby and Edward have been used to show that the choices we make between love and wealth have consequences. Edwards ends up as a happy person because he is with someone he loves while Willoughby ends up regretting his actions and wishing things would never have happened the way they did.
Sense and Sensibility is an incredible story that tells the lives of two young girls who have nothing but each other to look out for especially in troubling times. Some of the important lessons arrayed by the novel are the aspect of not overriding emotions over good senses. Austen uses Elinor as a prime character in teaching this lesson. From how she portrays her, Austen has much love and respect for Elinor and expects everyone in the society to behave like her. This is shown towards the end of the book at the scene where Marianne apologizes for her conducts and vows to be like her sister in the future.
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