Sanity and Stability in Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen Essay Example

In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen tells the stories of two women who are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum to stress the importance of properly managing imbalanced emotions. On one end is Elinor Dashwood; a rational and shrewd girl who approaches life and its complications with a levelhead. On the other end is Marianne Dashwood; a lively, passionate girl who plunges into situations without thinking them through. In an interaction between the two sisters and Willoughby, Jane Austen uses body language and syntax to display Elinor and Marianne’s conflicting personalities and create a contrast that highlights Marriane’s irrationality due to the imbalance of her emotions. 

Jane Austen focuses on Marianne’s body language to assure readers that the rapid swing of emotions displayed is authentic and leading to a lapse in her judgement. Marianne has a passionate relationship with Willoughby, so she is blindsided by his indifference when she reunites with him at the ball in London. As a result, Marianne’s reaction to Willoughby’s behavior is intense, and prevents her from noticing how her actions might look to those around her. Jane Austen conveys a lot of Marianne’s intense emotions through her body language. She does this because various characters in Sense and Sensibility are deceitful and do not voice what they are truly feeling, making it hard for readers to immediately trust everything they are saying. Therefore, when Austen minimizes Marianne’s words and simply displays her body’s natural reaction to her emotions, readers can get a sense of Marianne’s raw feelings without doubting their authenticity. 

Austen first employs Marianne’s body language to describe her face as “glowing with sudden delight” (Austen, 167) when she first sees Willoughby at the ball. The word “glowing” calls to mind the image of a bright light and suggests that Marrianne’s reaction is visible to everyone around her. In this time period, women were not supposed to be too forward with men because it was considered unladylike and made them an undesirable match. This means that Marianne’s reaction is risky and could tarnish her reputation. She knows this, but it can be assumed that her emotions are preventing her from realizing what she is doing.

Austen uses this fact to introduce the idea that Marianne’s emotions lead to lapses in her judgement. In addition, Marianne is too blinded by her delight that she does not notice Willoughby’s cold manner at first. As their interaction progresses, though, it becomes abundantly more clear, and Marianne’s happy glow fades as her face “crimsoned over” (Austen, 167). When he finally leaves, her face has become “dreadfully white” (Austen, 168) with shock. Readers can track the progression of Marianne’s emotions through her face pallor, and the change helps readers understand why she cannot control her emotions as the interaction continues. 

Jane Austen uses Marianne’s inability to form coherent sentences to further display her erratic emotions and how they cloud her judgement. In the regency era, conversations were meant to be light and mildly amusing, so disputes and outbursts of emotion were considered undignified. When Marianne speaks to Willoughby, she does not practice conversational etiquette or touch upon any of the recommended topics, but rather flings a flurry of questions at him. She asks him things like, “ ‘...what is the meaning of this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?’ “ (Austen, 167) and “ ‘What can be the meaning of it? Tell me, Willoughby; for heaven’s sake… what is the matter?’ “  (Austen, 168). In general, people ask questions when they are confused, and it is no different here. Marianne barely says anything beyond her outbursts of questions and Austen does this to show readers that Marianne’s bafflement is overriding every other sense. Since this only causes Marianne to practice improper social skills, Austen is once again able to illustrate how Marianne’s emotions lead to a lapse in her judgement.

Jane Austen uses parallelism to compare Elinor’s behavior to Marianne’s in order to highlight how unrefined Marianne is acting at the ball. As Marianne becomes more visibly distressed, Elinor becomes Marianne’s impulse control, having not forgotten the risks that come with acting improper in a public setting. There is a contrast between the way Elinor and Marianne speak. Whereas Marianne uses flustered, short sentences, Elinor speaks in calm thoughtful sentences. This seems to suggest Elinor has a presence of mind that Marianne lacks.

As Marianne spirals into her anxious thoughts, Elinor remains rational in an attempt to pacify her, suggesting that “ ‘Perhaps he has not observed you yet. ‘ “ (Austen, 167)  and then advising Marianne to wait until the next day to confront Willoughby since the ball is “ ‘...not a place for explanations.’ “ (Austen, 168). This demonstrates Elinor’s intact composure and shows the readers that while Marianne is disheveled, Elinor is not. Austen continues to use parallelism when the sisters actually speak to Willoughby. Marianne launches into more stammered questions, and her “feelings… were instantly expressed.” (Austen, 167)  but Elinor is “robbed of all presence of mind” and “unable to say a word” (Austen, 167) in response. Again, the contrast between the two sisters emphasizes how Marianne’s emotions are causing her to behave improperly.

Most of the discussions about Marriane’s personality quirks are centered around her passion and impulsiveness, and the ball scene is one that specifically highlights the negative effects these traits can produce. This is an important distinction because this passage illuminates one of the novel’s central themes; having an excess of emotions can create negative side effects. Jane Austen is able to use parallelism, syntax, and body language to effectively communicate this idea, and it will continue to prevail throughout the course of the novel. The only question is: will Elinor and Marianne learn to balance their emotions before it’s too late?



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