Mansfield Park Midterm Paper
The opening chapter, in which the three Ward sisters marry men in different social categories, fixes social class as Mansfield Park's primary theme. This is hardly surprising, since Jane Austen uses this theme in many of her novels. Lady Bertram's marriage to Sir Thomas illustrates that it is possible for a young woman to climb up the social ladder. Mrs. Norris, the second sister, marries slightly above her class and lives comfortably in the Mansfield Park parsonage. Mrs. Price's marriage to a lowly sailor serves as a warning to young women about making rash decisions regarding marriage. Lady Bertram sleeps most of the day, and lets others raise her children. Mrs. Norris is a nag, while Mrs. Price winds up with an unemployed, drunken husband, and is finally forced to reach out for help during her ninth pregnancy. Although it appears that Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris want to help their sister by bringing Fanny to Mansfield Park, they are very eager to ensure that Fanny does not have the same privileges given to the Bertram children. It seems that, having made the social leap themselves, they will go to great lengths to keep the British class system in place. In their eyes, Fanny isn't good enough to climb the social ladder. Mansfield Park appears to critique the system of heritance, the first-born son's right to inherit the entirety of their parents' estate. The younger sons were forced to "do something" for themselves, and usually found positions in the army, the navy, the law, or the clergy. Girls were viewed as financial assets only when they "married to advantage." They became heiresses only when they had no brothers. As the oldest Bertram, Tom will become the next Sir Thomas, while Edmund for the clergy. The Bertram sisters will be expected to marry within their own social class. Austen uses the character of Tom Bertram to express the problems inherent in this system. Tom's excessive spending causes his father great financial hardship, so much so that Sir Thomas himself must travel to Antigua to manage his investments instead of sending an agent. Sir Thomas cannot afford to hold the parsonage position open for Edmund, who has not yet been ordained a minister, and is forced to allow Dr. Grant to take the job. Although the Antigua plantation does not seem important at first, it provides a great deal of income for the family, allowing them to live an aristocratic lifestyle. In short, it is slave labor that pays for the family's life of leisure. In addition, in this era the financial worth and yearly incomes of people were common knowledge. Thus Maria Ward, is fortunate to marry Sir Thomas, and Mary Crawford. In Mansfield Park, Austen uses the meeting between the Country Bertrams and the City Crawfords to highlight the discrepancy between the two regions. The London lady, Mary, is out of touch with the rural needs of the farmers. They must harvest their grain at any cost, and become upset when Mary insists on using one of their wagons to transport her harp. She fails to understand that she cannot have her way if the farmers are to have enough food to last them the winter. Edmund is put off by Mary's selfish attitude, as is Fanny, but Edmund's attraction to Mary causes him to abandon his better judgment. Like Mary, Henry Crawford demonstrates an almost total ignorance of the realities of rural life. He is heir to an estate, but fails to attend to his properties and tenants. The arrival of the Crawfords is intended to highlight the clash between the traditional values found at Mansfield Park and the "new ways" of London life. While the patriarch, Sir Thomas, leaves the young people in the hands of Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris, they become "infected" by the city dwellers' loose morals. The improvements that are to be made to Rushworth's Sotherton estate are a symbol of the "new ways" on traditional country values. Mr. Rushworth and the...