Essay on 'Sense and Sensibility': Character Analysis

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Apart from the overarching theme of marriage deals, social status, and interpersonal relationships, Austen interweaves characters and community into liminality and personal growth journeys. Consequently, this personal self-reflection and rectification will result in the heroines instilling social change. Austen places the Dashwood sisters in a position where their personal growth is urgent, setting them amidst a social world that is starkly different from their previous one. Marianne is the more innocent and lively of the sisters while Elinor adopts a realistic approach toward their new life and territory. Marianne’s journey commences with love followed by disappointment, in the journey of transition to find stability, Marianne achieves personal growth in developing skills honed by an adult. This journey is initiated not just by self-reflection and awareness but being able to adapt to the constantly changing world and strict social norms. Whilst interacting socially with other characters, more than building a stable social status, the heroine develops a strong sense of self, realizing and rectifying her flaws and restoring a good personality. She is a character that lacks a sense of propriety and comprehension of situations, unlike her sister Elinor. She is portrayed as a highly emotional, aesthetic-centric young woman who is flawed. In spite of being sensible, she couldn’t moderate her emotions and sense of curiosity, which often affected the way she treated others. “Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation” (Austen, 6). Hence Marianne rather than acting under a system of controlled emotions during social interactions, acts on her belief of convictions, allowing sentimentality to precede her actions. She thus fails to understand the norms that dictate the world and its interactions, developing an artificial sense of the setting born out of her imagination. Her playfulness is reflected in how she is overwhelmingly straightforward and unfiltered in expressing her emotions, making it almost impossible for her to identify deceit. This is mirrored through her overflow of expressions on her face making blatant her emotions “an agony […] affect[ing] every feature”, her naïve sensibility making the narrative playful yet leading her downfall (Faucon, 2015).

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Marianne’s foremost trigger to realise her understanding of the world is when she gets fooled by John Willoughby. Upon her expectations of her love interest crumbling, she is trusted to deal with the harsh reality of such relationships where she acknowledges her mistake indisputably trusting first impressions and outward appearances of others. Upon Willoughby saving her after she hurts her ankle, she establishes her first impression of him as his temperament, attaching herself to the man expecting to end on intimate terms. This simplification of a character’s personality just by the first impression is catalysed by Marianne’s sensibility, alluding to her personified symbolic representation of the novel’s title Sense and Sensibility. The point of her downfall initiating her journey of transition begins when she visits Allenham with Willoughby which transpires a series of rumors that destroys Marianne’s reputation and eventually her family’s, “if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time; for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such conviction, I could have had no pleasure” (Austen, 48). This dialogue makes evident Marianne’s strong disposition towards her interactions based on sensibility blinds her in acknowledging certain restraints one must follow while living in a society. Hence, by breaking such societal norms, she pushes herself into a shameful position, ironically, this is exactly what triggers her self-awareness and transition. Willoughby’s betrayal of Sophie Grey for monetary convenience is what ultimately destroys Marianne’s ignorance of acknowledging certain social settings and her unfiltered overflowing feelings. Her response in wanting to find the truth about Willoughby albeit the concrete evidence of his relationship with another woman puts Marianne at risk of not just emotional but physical harm. As she processes the emotional damage and fatal fever, she recuperates by reflecting on her impulsive decisions and actions primarily based on sensibility that led her to misunderstand, or rather, not acknowledge societal and worldly dealings. Unlike other Austen heroines, Marianne does not have a strong sense of morality which would have otherwise aided her journey of transformation. During her recovery, she still acts foolishly by taking ill-timed walks to aggravate her body’s condition to grieve the betrayal.

“Two delightful twilight walks . . . all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and wettest, had—assisted by the still greater imprudence of sitting in her wet shoes and stockings—given Marianne a cold so violent, as, though for a day or two trifled with or denied, would force itself by increasing ailments, on the concern of everybody, and the notice of herself” (Austen, 206) The woods where Marianne worsens her condition become a symbolic representation in Austen making a metaphorical parallel to her poor decision. The old trees and long grass becomes metaphors for Marianne’s decision out of excessive sentimentality lacking judgment and rational thinking, just like in the old times. Her emotional breakdown leads her to a self-reflective journey of transition where she envisions leading a life like Elinor in the future, having a better understanding of society, and behavior, and developing a moral conscience. Hence, this illness becomes an important point of epiphany and rebirth for Marianne, as she sees the true nature of Willoughby and sets realistic expectations of her world. Her brush with death instigates in her insights about the necessity to incorporate sense into her artificial world of sensibility. Austen makes the heroine’s development and transformation evident through her dialogue “My illness has made me think . . . I saw in my own behaviour since the beginning of our acquaintance with him last autumn, nothing but a series of imprudence towards myself, and want of kindness to others. I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to the grave . . . Whenever I looked towards the past, I saw some duty neglected, or some failing indulged. Everybody seemed injured by me” (Austen, 233).

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