Persuasion
Jane Austen

by contributor

Nina Calhoun

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Themes
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Class Rigidity and Social Mobility

Among Persuasion’s most significant themes are those of class rigidity and social mobility. Individuals may rise in the social system through marriage and the naval profession. While Austen does defend the traditions and values of the existing social structure, she subtly subverts it in her apparent support for more expansive social mobility. One of the Navy’s “domestic virtues” is said to be its ability to allow people to rise to a higher social class. Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot are both punished because they are selfish and overstep the bounds.

Persuasion

The novel poses the question of whether it is preferable to stand firm in one’s convictions or be possibly persuadable by the ideas and opinions of others. After his experience of being rejected by Anne eight years earlier, Captain Wentworth holds the strong belief that the woman he eventually marries must have independence and strength of mind. Anne certainly believes that these are excellent qualities, but she additionally believes in duty and obligation. In the end, the believes that she was right in letting herself be persuaded, as “a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.” Readers are left to judge for themselves what they think about the question of persuasion.

Silly Parents

Silly parents are often seen in Austen novels and they are present in Persuasion, too. We see that Sir Walter’s extravagance and imprudence have caused the debt that force the Elliots to rent out their family estate and rent accommodations in Bath. Sir Walter can never be seen as a source of wisdom or guidance by his daughters. He is self-involved and vain, and Elizabeth takes after him. Mary is very self-pitying, and she perceives a vast number of things as personal slights. She cannot control her children because she doesn’t take the interest that she should in instructing them. Anne is forced to put up with her family and their foibles. Children who are forced to deal with ridiculous or imprudent parents are a theme in Persuasion.

Separate Spheres

The doctrine and idea of separate spheres was an important one in Jane Austen’s time. The two spheres were the public and the domestic. The male was traditionally given authority in the public domain (including areas such as finances and legal matters), and the female would generally be in charge of the private domain (this would include running the household). The introduction of the Crofts in this novel help to question the concept of separate spheres. Admiral and Mrs. Croft obviously have a wonderfully happy marriage, and they share duties in both spheres of life. Admiral Croft has shown himself willing to assist his wife in household chores and Mrs. Croft accompanies her husband at sea. We see an encapsulation of their partnership in the way they drive the carriage. In Persuasion, Jane Austen challenges the doctrine of separate spheres.

The Changing Ideal of the Gentleman

Two distinct versions of the English gentleman are present in this novel. We have Sir Walter on one hand: he is a titled, landowning, and traditional man who only cares for comfort. Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft are examples of the other kind of gentleman. They are both hard-working men who have made their fortunes through their careers. Both of these men have excellent manners, but they will never have Sir Walter’s social rank. Persuasion reflects the way the definition of “gentleman” was fluid and changing in Regency England.

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