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Themes

Ever see The Parent Trap? Mom and dad get a divorce and each takes one twin, so the girls grow up in very different environments and have very different personalities as a result. There aren't twins in this Mansfield Park, but Fanny and her siblings and cousins come close. Family bonds are stretched over different circumstances and incomes. The novel raises the big nature vs. nurture question. Are people's personalities based on family genetics (nature) or the circumstances in which they are raised (nurture)? Are the characters that end up revealing some serious character flaws born that way, or is it a result of their parenting? In addition, most of the families we see aren't very happy ones. Blood may be thicker than water, but it isn't thicker than things like income or clashing personalities in this novel.

Questions About Family

  1. Is Susan a picture of what Fanny could have been had she remained with the Prices? Or would Fanny have been shy and timid regardless of where and with whom she was raised?
  2. We have a lot of examples of sibling groups in this book: the Prices, the Bertrams, the Crawfords, and the Ward sisters. How do all these sibling groups compare? Do they share any common features?
  3. By the end of the novel, Sir Thomas feels that he didn't do a very good job as a parent, particularly with his daughters. Do you agree with Sir Thomas's self-assessment here?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Mrs. Norris is the person most to blame for how the Bertram girls turned out.

We see kids both with and without parents here. Ultimately the book suggests that having parents can be just as problematic as not having parents, in terms of shaping character.

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