While Persuasion at times suggests fundamental differences between the sexes, it also suggests that those differences are due to the different social expectations and opportunities applied to men and women. While the men in the novel are expected to live in the world and make the best of themselves, the women have to stay close to home whether they like it or not. The end of the novel, however, with its praise for the navy's "domestic virtues" (24.12), suggests that home life runs smoothest when men and women are on equal footing.
Questions About Gender
- Both male and female characters spend a lot of time thinking about marriage – do they want the same things out of a marriage, or are there some differences between the genders?
- When differences exist between the genders, what does the novel suggest are the causes? How does it suggest that particular causes are in play, and to what ends?
- Towards the end of the novel, Anne and Captain Harville have a long discussion about gender differences. Does the rest of the novel reinforce or undermine any parts of that discussion?
- Is it possible to imagine a similar story in which the genders are reversed (Anne is male and Wentworth is female)? What would have to change to make such a story plausible? What does this suggest about the ways the novel’s plot is or is not dependent on gender differences?
Chew on This
The gender differences in the novel are due to economics: the women can't earn their living, while the men can, which gives them more power and mobility.
The gender differences in the novel are due to women's inability to escape their families: they must be daughters until they are wives, which limits how their identity can develop.