The characters in Persuasion are trying to adapt to a society in which class boundaries are more open than they used to be. In many cases, the characters who have done well in the old system cling tightly to the older, more rigid class structure. Others, however, are more open to judging people based on their individual personalities. The shifting social borders don't mean that class distinctions are disappearing, but rather show how the existing class system attempts to adapt to changing conditions.
Questions About Society and Class
- Does the aristocracy perform any useful social functions? What does the novel suggest about the aristocracy's role in society?
- Do individual characters manage to move out of the classes they were born into? If so, how? Does it make a difference whether they're going up or going down?
- What is the relationship between class and money? Can one be rich and in the lower class, or poor and in the upper class? What does it mean to be "in" a class?
- What role do those nearly-invisible servants play in the novel? How do they illuminate the conflicts between other classes?
Chew on This
The lower class characters in the novel are happier than the upper class ones, suggesting that a higher class status is an obstacle to happiness.
While money gives Captain Wentworth access to some upper class privileges, it is his appearance and manners that ultimately make him acceptable to the members of that class.