An Exploration of Sense and Sensibility in Jane Austen's Novel

Categories: Sense And Sensibility


Jane Austen's timeless work, originally titled "Elinor and Marianne" before its 1811 publication as "Sense and Sensibility," presents a rich exploration of human character through the dichotomy of "sense" and "sensibility." This essay undertakes an extensive analysis, probing into the nuanced relationship between these two attributes as portrayed through the characters of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of societal expectations and gender norms, showcasing the challenges faced by women in the early 19th century.

Elinor and Marianne: A Dichotomy of Traits

At the core of "Sense and Sensibility" lies the dichotomy between "sense" and "sensibility," embodied by the Dashwood sisters.

Elinor, characterized by her "strength of understanding and coolness of judgment," epitomizes the rational aspect of human nature. In contrast, Marianne, described as "eager in everything" and possessing an abundance of emotions, represents the realm of refined emotional response and delicate sensitivity. Austen masterfully establishes these characterizations early in the novel, laying the groundwork for a profound exploration of personal growth.

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The evolution of the Dashwood sisters is marked by a series of trials, where the necessity for a harmonious blend of "sense" and "sensibility" becomes evident. As Elinor learns of Edward's true marital status, her emotional outburst, traditionally associated with "sensibility," becomes a pivotal moment. This deviation from her usual reserved demeanor serves as a catalyst for her eventual happiness, challenging the established norms of her character. Similarly, Marianne's reflection on her impulsive behavior signifies a shift towards a more balanced perspective, leading to her realization of Colonel Brandon's virtues.

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As the narrative unfolds, the sisters begin to exhibit traits contrary to their inherent nature, showcasing the transformative power of experience and personal growth. These shifts underscore Austen's nuanced exploration of the interplay between reason and emotion in shaping one's destiny.

The Significance of the Title: A Plot Device and Beyond

The title, "Sense and Sensibility," functions not merely as a label but as a profound exploration of the novel's central themes. It acts as a plot device, driving the narrative forward by requiring the Dashwood sisters to find a delicate balance between reason and emotion. This equilibrium, once achieved, paves the way for their respective happy endings. The title's significance extends beyond the plot, delving into societal expectations and gender roles of the time.

By juxtaposing "sense" and "sensibility" in the title, Austen suggests an interdependence between these qualities. The conjunction implies that neither can exist in isolation. Elinor's "sense" complements Marianne's "sensibility," and vice versa, challenging the conventional narrative of triumph or division between the two. This interplay is crucial not only for the individual growth of the characters but also for the societal commentary woven into the narrative.

Austen uses the title to delve into the societal expectations imposed on women during the early 19th century. The essay's introduction notes that possessing an excess of "sensibility" could be socially inconvenient for women. Marianne's deviation from social norms at the ball, resulting in her falling ill, serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the delicate balance women were expected to maintain between reason and emotion.

Exploring the Relationship Between "Sense" and "Sensibility"

The conjunction of "Sense AND Sensibility" in the title underscores the intricate relationship between these two attributes. Elinor's embodiment of "sense" and Marianne's representation of "sensibility" suggests a symbiotic connection. The reversal of roles towards the conclusion of the novel challenges the fixed descriptions of the Dashwood sisters, emphasizing the necessity of a harmonious blend of these qualities for their ultimate fulfillment.

Moreover, the title serves as a lens through which Austen explores broader societal concerns, emphasizing the delicate balance women were expected to strike. The tension between societal expectations and individual desires is palpable, as demonstrated by Marianne's struggles with societal norms. Austen appears to advocate for a nuanced perspective, suggesting that women need both Elinor's "sense" and Marianne's emotional depth to navigate the complexities of societal expectations effectively.

Through the lens of "Sense and Sensibility," Austen not only paints a vivid portrait of individual character growth but also engages in a subtle critique of the societal constraints imposed on women, urging for a more inclusive understanding of femininity that transcends rigid expectations.


In conclusion, Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" transcends the conventional boundaries of a mere exploration of opposing traits. The novel intricately weaves together the themes of "sense" and "sensibility," presenting them not as conflicting forces but as interdependent aspects crucial for individual growth. The title serves as a multifaceted device, steering the plot and offering a profound commentary on societal expectations. Austen's nuanced portrayal of the Dashwood sisters challenges stereotypes, advocating for a harmonious balance between reason and emotion. "Sense and Sensibility" stands as a timeless testament to Austen's keen understanding of human nature and societal complexities, leaving readers with a rich tapestry of characters navigating the delicate dance between rationality and emotion.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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An Exploration of Sense and Sensibility in Jane Austen's Novel. (2016, Nov 25). Retrieved from

An Exploration of Sense and Sensibility in Jane Austen's Novel essay
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