Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: 9780307386878 | Books

Austen made a highly realistic discussion of women’s issues at that time. She examines the heroines in the patriarchal society at that time. In that society, the value of a person is based on the ownership of property. Since generations of property went to male heirs, they were at a disadvantage from the start and could only be subordinated to men. As a result, these types of characters appear again and again in Austen’s writings: the assertive father; a mother who is obsessed with her social status and does everything possible to marry off her daughter, well-equipped young men, whose cynicism reflects their superior social position, and marriageable daughters, from the elegant headless girl to the sensible or emotional young woman.

How can a heroine achieve personal happiness through marriage in such a stern, demanding and often hostile world? Austen’s admonition was to use reason to control emotion She argues that emotions are often a dangerous guide to female behaviour. If a man of superior condition, but not of unrequited affections, is to be wooed, the consequences are often disastrous. Either because of his personal preference or because of parental disapproval, the man chooses a better match. These views of Austen are most evident in this first novel. The whole beginning of Sense and Sensibility revolved around the question of fortune in Dashwood’s will, and the want of avarice of Mrs. John Dashwood, who had an annual income of ten thousand pounds.

In the process of dividing up the estate, Austen makes no bones about the opposite characteristics of the two Dashwood sisters. Elinor was a very sensible, calm woman who, though only nineteen, was a good mother’s adviser. She was wonderfully kind and affectionate, but she knew how to hold back her feelings. It was a subject which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had stubbornly refused to learn. Her sister Marianne’s talent was in many respects equal to her sister’s. She was inordinate in sorrow or joy. All is well but no discretion. That is to say, Marianne allowed her feelings to dominate her actions, while Elinor would not be swayed by such impulses.

Austen’s intention is very clear. She simply changed the original title of Elinor and Marianne to Sense and Sensibility to emphasize her theme. In this book, Austen shows the contrast between the characters of the two sisters. She narrates most of the stories from the perspective of Elinor’s outlook on life, ethics and social society, thus shaping a reasonable mortal. This is her ideal woman. When they learned that Willoughby had made full use of his superior social position, played with Marianne’s earnest love, abandoned the poor girl Eliza, and finally married the rich Miss Gray, Marianne was fully convinced of her folly, and her mother admitted that her admiration of Willoughby had been imprudent. Reason thus prevailed in both sisters. Austen arranged a happy ending for them. The book begins with comedy, and there is a disturbance in the middle. Marian almost becomes a tragedy, which ends in comedy.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

houseonmangostreet_sandracisnerosThe House on Mango Street, a book by Sandra Cisneros, highlights the life of a Latina girl growing up in poverty. Desperate to escape her seemingly predestined fate of unhappiness, the protagonist Esperanza writes her story and her path to salvation. The story is told through a series of vignettes, all expressing Esperanza’s deeply rooted emotions of joy and sadness. Throughout the events that occur on Mango Street, we can see that Esperanza is surrounded by women trapped either by themselves, or by the men in their lives. Esperanza’s fate is closely intertwined with these women, whom she discovers have similar motives to her own. Not only does Esperanza want to escape their fate, she wants to do so by defining herself.

Although The House on Mango Street is a hard book to truly understand and grasp, by nature of its writing style and subtle complexities, it highlights so many themes that are relevant in our society. Among them, the struggles of self definition ranks highly. Cisneros is able to illustrate the struggle of defining yourself amidst opposition from forces that we have no control over, such as our gender, race, and socioeconomic status. All too often throughout the story, the reader sees girls who change themselves in their desperate plight to be accepted. The only question to ask yourself is, to what extent must a person go to live the life that they dream of?

-Mirabella S.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library