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Free Study Guide-Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen-Free Book Notes
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Major Theme

The dominant theme in the novel is 'Sense prevailing over Sensibility.' Elinor represents sense and sails through the trials and tribulations of life with equanimity. Colonel Brandon is also guided by his sense, which enables him to withstand the pressures of life with maturity and fortitude. Marianne is the embodiment of sensibility and suffers the agony of love and separation because of her temperament. Edward, too, commits himself to Lucy early in life because he is overpowered by his sensibility, but later his good sense prevails and he chooses Elinor as his partner.

Elinor is a pillar of strength to her family because she alone is able to make impartial and reasonable decisions. Her good sense always prevails and guides her to act appropriately. She advises her mother to occupy the cottage at Barton because it is reasonably priced and far away from the glaring influence of Fanny Dashwood. She also convinces her mother to retain only the necessities of life, including a few servants, in accordance with their financial situation. When Marianne foolishly decides to accept a horse from Willoughby, it is Elinor who makes her realize the expenditure involved in maintaining such an animal. Elinor's sense makes her perceptive, and she suspects Willoughby of deceit. Later, she consoles her sister by revealing to her the real nature of Willoughby and making her realize the futility of marrying a selfish man like him. Elinor has the good sense to see through the selfish designs of Lucy and pities Edward for his attachment to such a woman. Elinor's good sense wins her admiration from Edward, the Colonel and even Willoughby. In the end she is rewarded by getting to marry the man of her dreams.

Colonel Brandon commands respect because of his superior sense and integrity. He shares a good rapport with Elinor because she is equally endowed with good sense. He loves Marianne but is sensible enough not to force his affection on her. He waits patiently for her to realize his worth and is rewarded for his patience. He is aware of Willoughby's true nature and is relieved when Marianne escapes from his clutches. His sense guides him to be prudent and patient in order to win the favor of his beloved, and he is happy for it.

Marianne personifies sensibility. She becomes emotionally disturbed by the events in her life. When Willoughby suddenly departs for London, she feels dejected and makes herself miserable. And when he treats her shabbily and chooses another woman, she goes through a period of depression and neglects her health. Her sensibility makes her pessimistic and despondent. However, influenced by the good sense of Elinor, she is able to merge from her depression and learns to face life. Later, she appreciates the good sense of the Colonel and chooses him as her partner.

Edward gets carried away by his sensibility in his youth. Thus he gets engaged to Lucy Steele. However, when he meets Elinor, he understands the value of sense and admires the girl for her temperament. He repents for his past actions and regrets his decision to have wanted to marry Lucy, who is coarse in her manners and selfish by nature. Fortune favors him and Elinor's good sense wins. Edward goes back to Elinor and gets married to her to lead a life of peace and contentment.

Minor Themes

The two significant minor Themes in the novel are 'the victory of prudence and patience' and 'money making or marring a relationship.'

Both Elinor and Colonel Brandon exercise prudence and patience in their dealings and are rewarded accordingly. Elinor, with her discreet speech and action, gains the respect of all those who value goodness. She observes people, analyzes their actions and then forms an opinion about them. She is able to see through the feigned emotions of Lucy, and therefore does not despair when Lucy tells her of her relationship with Edward Ferrars. Elinor's faith in herself and her genuine love for Edward makes her wait patiently for things to change.

Colonel Brandon also earns respect through his silence and gravity. He is a man of few words and when he does speak, he is very discreet. He loves Marianne but does not impose himself on her. He shows his concern for her when she is distressed and is sympathetic during her illness. Thus, like a patient lover, he waits for her to accept him and eventually wins her hand.

The other minor theme in the novel is 'money making or marring a relationship.' John Dashwood marries Fanny because she is wealthy. He is proud of her and her wealthy mother. Lucy is desperate to get married to Edward because she craves his wealth and status. When she is not sure if he will inherit his mother's property, her feelings change. She marries his brother, Robert, thus attaching herself to this wealthy family. Willoughby discards Marianne because she has very little money and marries Miss Grey because she will inherit thirty thousand pounds. Even Elinor and Edward get married only after securing the position at Delaford and financial help from Mrs. Ferrars. In the fictional world of Jane Austen, money is important in cementing a relationship.

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