Mansfield Park; Empire & Orientalism from Edward Said

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Summarise Edward Said’s argument in his essay ‘Jane Austen and Empire’ and then show whether you support or refute it.

Edward Said’s analysis of Jane Austen’s narrative in her 3rd novel ‘Mansfield Park’ (1814) is based on his own studies of ‘orientalism’. This term is defined by Said as a variety of false assumptions /depictions of Eastern people within Western attitudes. This is achieved, he argues, through the literary discourse provided by post-enlightenment, post-colonial American/European (Western) authors. Said draws our attention to an underlying theme of ‘Mansfield Park’, which is empire. Said recycles his interpretation of stereotyped Muslims, Arabs & Egyptians and applies it again to a different social group. He does so by examining the novels representation of the Atlantic slave trade (in the West Indies), and in turn concludes that Austen must support British values of imperialism and empire. He points out the ease with which Austen’s characters refer to Antigua, and convinces us that Austen’s infrequent use of this word is evidence of her personal support of the degradation of slaves. In his analysis of the text, Said starts at the beginning, and relies heavily on the ignorant way in which Sir Thomas’s colony is isolated from his family and domicile, which remains proudly on English land, miles across the globe. He implies that the slight references to Antigua do no justice to its own beauty, history, and the fact that it is, in comparison, a paradise island. However Austen does actually support this claim herself, as Lady Bertram does no justice to India, wanting only the commodities it can offer: “I may have a shawl. I think I will have two shawls” His ultimate point is that the ‘Antigua’ seen in Mansfield Park is no more than a place for work, necessary for obtaining personal luxuries and fortune for the locals of Britain. Austen doesn’t deny this in her novel, but she doesn’t shout about it either. Said’s writing just reminds us of how...
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