We are often told that too much of anything can be a bad thing. Even Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers of all time, insisted that the only path to real contentment and inner peace is "The Golden Mean" (Funk & Wagnalls 328). This life lesson is learned by two of Jane Austen's most well-known characters. Only when Elinor and Marianne Dashwood achieve a balance between Sense and Sensibility do they find true happiness in their lives.
The dichotomy between "sense" and "sensibility" is one of the lenses through which Austen's Sense and Sensibility is most commonly analyzed. This distinction is most clearly symbolized by the psychological contrast between the novel's two main characters. Elinor, the older of the two, represents qualities of "sense," such as reason, restraint, social responsibility, and a clear-headed concern for the welfare of others. In contrast, Marianne, her younger sister, represents the qualities of "sensibility," such as emotion, spontaneity, impulsiveness, and rapturous devotion. As both Elinor and Marianne suffer disappointments in love, they undergo transformations that bring each character closer to the other in behavior and personality. Elinor, the epitome of all that is proper and conventional, begins to show emotions, traits that appeared to have been hidden within her. Marianne, the over-reacting and highly emotional young lady, evolves into a more mature and dignified woman. In the final analysis we find that only when these two young women achieve a balance in their lives, can they truly enjoy a peaceful existence. In other words, the novel's success is a result not of the triumph of sense over sensibility, or sensibilit...
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...rself as a mature and responsible young woman. By adapting some of each other's traits but maintaining some of their own, these women have achieved the necessary balance. Perhaps Yasmine Gooneratne says it best when she writes, "The complete human personality needs certain qualities in balanced proportion. Sense and sensibility, reason and passion, mind and heart, complement each other" (73). This is "The Golden Mean".
"Aristotle." Funk and Wagnallas New Encyclopedia. 1992. 328.
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Doherty, 1995.
Gooneratane, Yasmine. Jane Austen. London: Cambridge, 1970. 73.
Mansell, Darrel. The Novels of Jane Austen: An Interpretation. London: Macmillian, 1973. 66.
Reinstein, P. Gila. "Moral Priorities in 'Sense and Sensibility'." Renascence 35.4 (Summer 1983): 269-83. (I found this using the MLA Database)
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