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Mansfield Park | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park | Motifs


City and Country

The contrast between country and city settings is a motif in several of Austen's novels. The country is characterized by traditional ways and social mores, whereas city life moves at a faster pace and provides anonymity to cover questionable behavior. In Mansfield Park, London is the setting for inappropriate behavior. In London, Maria abandons her moral upbringing, betrays her husband, and shames her family; in London, Tom runs up his debts by gambling and partying. In London, a wealthy, less-than-upright social group influences Mary's opinions on the clergy and on proper behavior. But in this novel, the city also invades the country when the Crawfords bring their troubling attitudes and behavior to Mansfield Park and the Bertrams' quiet, well-ordered household. The narrator clearly favors country ways, expelling every character tainted by the big city from Mansfield in the final chapter.

Parents and Surrogates

A primary task of parents, in Austen's novels, is to shepherd young people—children, nieces and nephews, even neighbors—safely and successfully into their careers and marriages. Because a host of conditions—poverty, carelessness, and mixed motivations—can influence how parents carry out this responsibility, surrogates often take up the role, with mixed results. In Mansfield Park, the Prices are such ineffective parents that their children would be lost without surrogates. From the scolding Mrs. Norris to the kind and generous Sir Thomas (and even to the lewd admiral that readers never meet), each parent or surrogate shapes the younger characters' emerging fortunes. Conscientious adults use their power with care and forethought, often to young people's advantage, but a self-centered or imprudent adult can lead a young person into disaster. Fanny, her cousins and siblings, and Mary are both blessed and hindered by the adults acting on their behalf over the course of the novel.

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