Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen
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Mansfield Park Theme of Memory and the Past

Like an elephant, Fanny has a very long memory. Also like an elephant, Fanny moves rather slowly. She is not large, however. There the analogy ends. At any rate, the past is crucial to Fanny and she often lets it dictate her present. She treasures old trinkets and judges people on their past conduct, often refusing to change her mind about them in the present. While Fanny doesn't want to embrace change, most of the other characters in Mansfield Park live in the present and try to ignore, forget, or revise the past. And nearly everyone in the book selectively recalls the past at times, deceiving themselves about what has actually occurred.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Should Henry be judged on his past conduct, as Fanny judges him, or do you think he's really changed by the time he falls in love with Fanny and deserves a fresh start?
  2. The power of childhood memory and childhood bonds is a running theme. Do you think the strength of childhood impressions and bonds are the reasons that Fanny fell in love and stayed in love with Edmund?
  3. What's the significance of the fact that we meet Fanny when she's a child and we have some first-hand knowledge of the childhood memories that she later references and recalls as an adult?
  4. Did Julia ever fully recover from being slighted by Henry, or did the heartbreak she suffered from Henry drive her future actions, such as her elopement with Mr. Yates?

Chew on This

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

Fanny gives too much power to her past and to the past actions of others. As a result, she doesn't allow for changes in the present.

Mary has a healthy attitude about the past overall – she indulges in some memories but discards and moves on from others.

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