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by Jane Austen

Persuasion Theme of Memory and the Past

The past is not easily forgotten in Persuasion. In fact, those who do have made a complete break with the past in order to reinvent themselves are looked upon with suspicion. And yet hanging on too much to the past can also be a problem. By the end of the novel, the most successful characters are those who are able to learn from their past experiences without being blinded by them.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. At the end of the novel, Captain Wentworth says that his memories made him blind to the present. How else do the characters' recollections of the past shape what they do in the present?
  2. How are youth and maturity contrasted in the novel? What does the older characters' perspective on their own youth say about their attitudes towards the currently young?
  3. The novel pays a lot of attention to Anne and Wentworth's memories of the past, but how are the other characters shaped by their memories? (Elizabeth, Captain Benwick, Mrs. Smith...)

Chew on This

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

The reminiscences of Anne and Mrs. Smith suggest that the difference between youth and adulthood is a personal understanding of suffering and loss.

Elizabeth's memory of Mr. Elliot's first rejection suggests that simply living through pain and loss is not enough to bring mature wisdom: one must also learn from one's experiences.

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