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Themes

If Northanger Abbey is about nothing else, it's about communication. Communication is explored in all its forms here: verbal and non-verbal, intentional and unintentional, miscommunication, a lack of communication, direct communication, bad communication...and on and on. The plot is frequently pushed forward by miscommunication, from John's totally misunderstood marriage proposal, to Catherine's faulty assumptions about Mrs. Tilney's death. Catherine grows as a character by learning to better understand those around her and to make herself better understood.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Miscommunications abound here, leading to lots of mishaps. What are some of the causes for these miscommunications? Are certain people and personalities to blame? Do settings and circumstances foster communication problems?
  2. Henry Tilney frequently ridicules and nitpicks people's word choices. Does this tendency of Henry's tie in to some of the book's major themes? What exactly is Henry saying about language and social relations here?
  3. How are speech and language used as a characterization technique in the novel? How are the personalities of certain characters reflected in how they speak?
  4. The letter that Isabella sends Catherine reveals Isabella's true character to Catherine. Is this due to Catherine's increased understanding and better communication skills, or does Isabella effectively out herself by being a crummy writer?

Chew on This

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

Catherine hasn't really improved her communication skills, in terms of both speaking and listening, by the end of the book.

Though dialogue abounds here, Northanger Abbey places a greater emphasis on the importance of non-verbal forms of communication.

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