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Austen’s Thematic Complexity as Outlined in the Novel Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is a very complex work. Its subject and main idea cannot be declared directly. It could be about ordination, slavery, children’s education, or even about the results of violating the society’s morals. Any or all of those themes apply to Mansfield Park.
Generally, the book is about a young girl, Fanny Price by the name, who chances to live with her rich uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram respectively. Fanny comes from a poor family background. Everything does not go smooth for the young girls as she is improperly treated by her other aunt, Mrs. Norris – the caretaker at Mansfield Park, the Bertrams’ property. Their daughters, Maria and Julia, are brutal girls, who enjoy being fashionable. However, the eldest son, Tom Bertram, draws the reader’s attention. He seems to be the most affected by the Antiguan experience. He is rusty and a drunkard. He is also irresponsible and addicted to gambling. Surely, Fanny cannot find solace in such a person. Alternatively, she finds comfort only in the friendship of the junior son, Edmund, who wants to become a priest. Fanny is shy and timid, as she struggles to establish her position among the members of the Bertram family.
Later on, Sir Thomas departs from Mansfield Park and goes to Antigua, where he owns other estates. In his absence, Tom’s friend Yates suggests that they should act out a play. This idea is accepted by everyone with the exception of Edmund and Fanny, who are terrified by that idea. The play goes on, nonetheless. However, Maria and Henry, together with Mary and Edmund (who has been persuaded to take a character to avoid enlisting a stranger to act it), get to play some rather nasty parts with each other. As one of the women is not able to attend a rehearsal, Fanny is forced to play her role. She almost gives in when Sir Thomas comes back from Antigua. Obviously, he is not pleased with the play and, therefore, he puts an end to it. Since Henry did not confess his feelings towards Maria, she marries Rushworth and they leave for Brighton, London, taking Julia along with them. In the meantime, on a prank, Henry decides to entice Fanny. However, later he truly falls in love with her. Henry assists William, Fanny’s brother, to get an endorsement in the Navy. Using this as advantage, he makes Fanny a proposal. But the young lady is dejected and, thus, refuses. Her refusal of such a well-off man disappoints her uncle, and, as a consequence, she returns to her parents’ miserable house in Portsmouth. All these events outline the use of space by Jane Austen in this novel.
On the other hand, Edmund pursues his clergy dream and is eventually ordained. However, he continues to ponder over his relations with Mary, even though Fanny is secretly in love with him, much to her sadness. As the story develops, Henry runs off with Maria and Julia elopes with Yates. Fanny comes back to Mansfield, together with her younger sibling Susan. Eventually, Maria and Henry parted and she went to the countryside to live with the nasty woman, Mrs. Norris. Julia and Yates are brought back to the family. Finally, Edmund changes his mind and Fanny marries him. Susan joins the family either due to this. Everyone else lives happily but Henry, Mary, and Maria are sent away.
As mentioned earlier, Mansfield Park is an enormously complex novel, even by the class of Jane Austen, who normally creates extraordinary complex characters and puts them into challenging trials in her novels. Like the others, the novel is about a young woman in search of her place in the social order, amidst a rich family. Fanny comes from a poor family. Her rich aunt and uncle bring her up. Like other Austen characters, Fanny does in part determine her status by getting married. Since women could not get a prestigious profession, matrimony was the only way, in the given century, to climb or descend the societal hierarchy. Fanny’s mother became a victim of circumstance having married a poor sailor who turned out to be a drunkard. Her aunts and her cousin, unlike her, do quite well by marrying rich men. While the marriages of others have been put together based on good looks and relatives’ connections and interactions, Fanny is to ‘earn’ a matrimony spouse based on her nature. This in a way explains that virtue is quite important in this world, and it is the core determinant of an individual’s ultimate destiny.
The idea of education also comes to the limelight - whether people change or not. Clearly, by the end of the book, both Sir Thomas and Edmund have learned something, and the role Edmund has played in changing Fanny’s mind (and, to a smaller degree, the influence Fanny has imposed over her sister Susan) proves the ability of some people to change and to become better people. Others, like Maria and Henry, seem not to learn anything. Urban and rural settings are used to enhance this debate, with the suggestion that city life promotes poor behavior and degrades one’s moral growth. This is depicted by the impact Antigua had on Tom Bertram. Growing up in a local rural house makes a child familiar with all that is good, as evidenced by Fanny’s nature in the story.
Another interesting point to note in the novel is that Sir Thomas is absent for crucial parts of the book, maintaining his business in Antigua. He is a slave trader. We find out about this when Fanny confronts him about the slave trade business. It is while he is gone that the family goes astray. This calls for the need of paternal authority. The narrator implies that his affairs in slave trade are a moral degradation. In general, Austen portrays urban poverty in her representation of Fanny’s parents’ habitat. She develops her argument firmly with regards to the modern media. Austen also touches on sexuality in the scene where Maria squeezes around the entrance at Sotherton and the scene where Fanny puts the orange cross jewelry her brother has presented her with on a chain. However, in the novel, it is impossible to know anyone’s temperament with any assurance. Thus, sincerity becomes a vital measure. Fanny’s self-denial and withdrawn nature represent her nature as a young woman. We also see reason assuming vital significance. Being guided by feelings can lead to deadly mistakes. Reason, on the other hand, which often inspires carefulness or removal, is secure. Fanny, with her ardent outlook and her trust in her ability to reason out how she should act, is perfect for her role as the heroine.
Finally, the novel ends with a union, but we do not see anything of their lives in marriage thereafter. Austen creates a suspense by leaving an open final because she cannot give a full account of Edmund’s and Fanny’s entire life together. The good news is that, Fanny’s marriage has fixed her societal place, and she is no longer a solo woman. Thus, Mansfield Park, Austen’s novel, brings about a revolutionary effect.