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Sense and Sensibility | Symbols



The fortunate characters in Sense and Sensibility are settled in permanent homes: John and Fanny Dashwood at Norland, the Middletons at Barton Park, and Colonel Brandon at Delaford. Especially fortunate characters have more than one home—a country estate and a London home. But for less fortunate characters, home is a temporary refuge or a future promise, both imperiled by shifting circumstances. John Willoughby loses and then regains an estate, depending on his compliance with his aunt's wishes (although he also has Combe Magna and marries an heiress); and when he refuses to comply with his mother's wishes, Edward Ferrars loses his inheritance to his snobbish younger brother and must be rescued by Colonel Brandon.

For unmarried or widowed women the question of a secure home is more fraught. Mrs. Dashwood is forced to rely on Sir John's kindness, and because she no longer has wealth, her daughters are less able to marry into secure homes. Lucy's manipulations are driven by her need for a home, and Marianne dreams of being mistress of Willoughby's future estate. Throughout the novel, present and hoped-for homes represent the challenges of gaining and keeping status among the landed gentry.

Tokens of Affection

Two kinds of tokens of affection play symbolic roles in Sense and Sensibility: locks of hair and personal letters. Young Georgian women, except for heiresses such as Miss Grey, had little they could freely give as tokens of love. A gift of hair was such an intimate gift that a young man's accepting it was an implicit promise of love. Letters—a young woman's words—were also hers to give and implied a close and loving relationship.

But because these tokens of affection carried such meaning, they could also endanger a young woman's reputation if they fell into the wrong hands or were publicly displayed. Moreover, rejection of these tokens meant heartbreak and loss. A lock of hair (Lucy's) complicates Elinor's feelings for Edward and misleads other characters, and Marianne's romantic letters to Willoughby cause them both embarrassment. Willoughby also takes a lock of Marianne's hair, which leads Elinor to think they might be secretly engaged. Later, to keep the peace with his new fiancée, Willoughby returns Marianne's letters and lock of hair.


Sense and Sensibility is punctuated by discussions of finance and household economy. Sufficient income means stability; scarce funds can provoke poor decisions. When readers see Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters debating whether to replace a fire grate or postpone that expense or hear Fanny Dashwood lamenting that the good china went to Barton Cottage with Mrs. Dashwood, readers see that money talks.

The men also often discuss money. For John Dashwood people are reduced to their monetary value or earning potential. He knows who owns how much land, how much income estates generate yearly, and how each wealthy man may help or hinder his own ambitions. He worries that if Marianne's illness robs her of her youthful radiance she'll fetch a lower price on the marriage market. For John and some other characters in the novel, people become monetized: they are what they're worth.

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