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Does Persuasion challenge or defend the status of class structure in early 19th century British society? How?
Austen challenges the class structure of her society. She employs irony and satire to poke fun at people in positions of high social consequence. Sir Walter is a perfect example of a caricature of a titled landowner. Austen's treatment of him is subtly subversive; by making his vanity a joke, she lessens the grandeur and respect of his position. Austen also treats the Navy favorably. As a means of social mobility which undercuts the traditional landed gentry system, the Navy is a relatively progressive institution. This novel supports the 'domestic virtues' of the Navy, and therefore may be thought to challenge existing ideas of class.
On the other hand, Persuasion does defend the relatively rigid class structure in some ways. Anne Elliot strongly dislikes Mrs. Clay, and is averse to any marriage between her father and a woman of a lower class. Anne finally concludes tha
t she was right to allow herself to be persuaded and that she ought to have upheld her class duty. Anne's marriage to Captain Wentworth of course does not disrupt the class system. Wentworth has risen in wealth and consequence during the eight years he has been at sea. Anne's marriage at the end of the novel is perfectly suitable, and does not challenge the class system.
What is the significance of the title "Persuasion"? How are the novel's characters positively and negatively affected by persuasion in the story?
Anne Elliot is clearly the foremost example of one who is persuaded. Eight years before the novel begins, Lady Russell persuaded Anne not to marry Captain Wentworth. This leads the Captain to negatively judge Anne's firmness of mind and strength of character. But Anne does not agree that persuasion negatively affected her. Although she disagrees with the content of Lady Russell's advice, she thinks it was right to be persuaded. A sound mind, she reasons, pays heed to duty and to the judgment of others.
In contrast, Louisa Musgrove is an example of someone who could not be persuaded. Try as he might, Captain Wentworth could not get Louisa to keep from jumping off the wall. While he initially praises Louisa's strong character, Captain Wentworth later realizes that there is a big difference between a constant disposition and a stubborn mind. In the end, Austen allows the reader to judge whether persuasion is a positive or negative force.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Persuasion!