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Monetary wealth is intimately aligned with social standing and when the Eliot's run into financial difficulties as result of pretentious living standards, this has profound implications for the plot and main characters.
Power is also another factor that plays a role in the desire for social status. In this novel Austen explores the ways in which power over others is related to class and wealth. We have already seen how the power associated with class and social hierarchy has succeeded in changing the direction of Anne's life through the persuasion of Lady Russell. An interesting aspect of the novel is that Austen also examines the shifting and changing patterns of power in the society at that time. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, a division has arisen in English society between the old aristocracy and the new middle classes, represented by the individual entrepreneur. This can be seen in the way that power shifts in the novel between the Eliot and Wentworth families. (Persuasion by Jane Austen: In a Nutshell)
2.2. Women in society
Another factor that is important and which is related to the above themes in the novel is the position of women in society. Austen, in portraying the main female character in contrast to the other characters, attempt to show how women have to contend with a society dominated by male ideas of hierarchy and status, while at the same time attempting to find their own sense of identity and self-worth. Central to the problems that Anne Eliot faces is that women in the society have to live within rigid class distinctions. This is the reason why she is persuaded not to marry Wentworth and the reason for her wasting twenty -- seven years of her life as a spinster.
This refers to the fact that women in English society during this period had no option but marriage. Furthermore, it was required that a women 'marry well' if she was to advance in society and overcome status barriers. In this light Anne can be forgiven for being persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry beneath her status, or at least her action can be better understood.
From a feminist point-of-view women were subject to both the class prejudice as well as to sexual and gender biases and restrictions. Jane Austen was aware of this double yoke under which women lived and her novels are an attempt to reveal and expose the situation of women in the society of the time.
2.3. Independence and identity.
Closely linked to the above themes is the theme of independence, the ability to make up one's own mind and the questioning of those who would persuade or influence one. This also refers to the theme of self-knowledge and identity. As the novel progresses, Anne as well Frederick Wentworth learn that one should not be forced or persuaded into believing what other would like you to believe. As one commentator notes; "The novel asks whether it is better to be firm in one's convictions or to be open to the suggestions of others." (Persuasion: Jane Austen: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols)
However, the forces and influence of societal norms and views about status and class are shown to be extremely powerful. Even years after she broke off her engagement Anne still believes that she was acting out of a sense of social duty. This implies that she was not only persuaded by Lady Russell bur also by her own acceptance of some aspects of the social system. She says the following to Wentworth later in the novel: "When I yielded, I thought it was to duty…" ( Austen: Persuasion: Chapter 23) While Anne learns and becomes more aware of herself as an individual and not bound by the strictures of society, it can also be argued that the novel leaves us with the question or the possibility that she is not entirely free from the pretensions and machinations of society.
Jane Austen's Persuasion is a love story that is also a narrative that explores the issues of society, class and the search for self-knowledge and identity in a conformist environment. Anne learns from her mistakes in the process of becoming more aware and independent as a person. This also applies to Captain Wentworth to a certain degree. The novel therefore is not only a critique of society but an exploration of human awakening and awareness to the possibilities of life. Taking these two central these into account -- the critique of society and the search for self-knowledge, independence and truth - it becomes clear that while this novel was written in the 19th century it still has much to interest us today. The problem that the main character encounters refers to issues that women and men still experience in contemporary society.
Austen J. Persuasion. Chapter 23. April 12, 2009.
Perkins W. Persuasion: Criticism. April 12, 2009.
Persuasion by Jane Austen. April 12, 2009. < http://www.austen.com/persuade/>
Persuasion by Jane Austen: In a Nutshell. April 12, 2009.
Persuasion: JANE AUSTEN: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols. April 12, 2009.
Persuasion Study Guide. April 12, 2009.
Persuasion: Themes. April 12, 2009. < http://www.answers.com/topic/persuasion-novel-3>[continue]
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