Antithetical Structure of Sense and Sensibility

The structure of the novel Sense and Sensibility is antithetical. One structural component supplied by a series of activities from Elinor is brought in into an antithetical relation with another structural component comprised of Marianne's activities. In simple terms sense embodies by Elinor is juxtaposed against sensibility embodied by Marianne.

Jane Austen

Elinor is said to possess a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, on that base, her mother is fully confident that if necessary Elinor is capable of giving her sound advice. Elinor is full of strong feelings, but at the same time she knows how to govern those feeling at right time. On the other hand, Marianne knows no moderation in terms of handling her emotions. She is generous, amiable and interesting, but is easily carried away by her feeling of joy and sorrow. This antithesis is central to the whole design of the novel. These two sisters have different taste in terms of choosing boys too. Elinor finds Edward too attractive, but for Marianne Edward is boring without any sense of music.

They have different attitudes towards propriety and self-command. When Marianne is going out openly with Willoughby without knowing his part of the truth, Elinor feels that Marianne is violating social decorum. She believes that a girl must have good self-command over the temptation of going out with any boy. But Marianne does not think any need of self-command over such personal things. She believes that no concealment is required in a matter like this. Here we are presented with a striking example of the sense of Elinor and the surrender of Marianne to her feelings. When both sisters face disappointment in love they behave quite differently. In case of Elinor, when she learns that Edward and Lucy had secret engagement, she was shattered, hurt, bewildered but soon she gains her mental and emotional balance. But in the case of Marianne, when she receives a letter from Willoughby stating that he never had any intention to marry her and he is going to marry another girl, she loses control over her emotions and becomes the victim of frustration. It takes a long time for her to recover from that grief.  Elinor is thinking more about propriety while Marianne is being influenced by her emotions. On Marianne's scale of values, emotion is foremost and the propriety has second value.

In the same vein, faithlessly impetuous Willoughby is put beside patient and undaunted Colonel Brandon. Colonel Brandon can't feel defected and hurled even at being disliked by Marianne when she was head over heels in love with Willoughby. In the same pace the failed and betrayed love between Willoughby and Marianne is juxtaposed with the successful love between Edward and Elinor. In this way the novelist Jane Austen dramatizes the opposed qualities of mind through opposing personalities, usually sisters or close friends of radically different temperaments. Austen maintains stable balance in the structure of the novel by including antithetical events. This antithetical structure is not the original invention of Jane Austen. She derived it from the structure of the late eighteenth-century moralistic fiction. But Jane Austen sought to modify slightly this antithetical structure which is closely related to its thematic structure. From the very beginning of the novel Jane Austen makes an effort to collide sense with sensibility. Along with the expansion of the antithetical structure, the conflicting relation between sense and sensibility also moves towards the dramatic progression. Finally sense asserts its victorious and triumphant superiority over sensibility and feelings.  Even to assert the final superiority of sense over sensibility Jane Austen had been in need of this antithetical structure.