Study Guide

Mansfield Park Passivity

By Jane Austen

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One of the major divides in Mansfield Park is between action and passivity. Characters are largely defined by their active or their passive natures, and this division extends over into other contrasting traits: talkative characters versus silent ones, moving ones versus still ones, etc. Fanny, in particular, is a poster child for passivity. She watches from the sidelines while others lead messy, active, and exciting lives. Though it may seem safer to remain passive, passivity carries its own risks. Silent, passive characters are frequently misunderstood by others, who are forced to make faulty assumptions about them.

Questions About Passivity

  1. In the end, Fanny is the only character who really ends up with what she wants. Do you think the book is rewarding Fanny's passive behavior, or is the ending of this book ironic – intentionally absurd and humorous?
  2. During a card game, Mary notes that she would rather take action and lose than do nothing at all. However, most of the characters who take bold actions do end up losing in this book. What do you think the book is trying to say about having an active attitude? Does the narrative approve of action despite the risk of failure, or does it favor safe and more passive behavior? Or is there a balance to be found between hasty action and total passivity?
  3. Fanny's shyness and her passive attitude are two of her most defining characteristics. Both of these traits frequently cause her to remain silent and in the background. What are some of the effects of Fanny's shy withdrawal on the narrative? How is Fanny's shyness significant to the plot?
  4. How does Fanny's passiveness differ from the passiveness of Lady Bertram?

Chew on This

Edmund can actually be described as a passive character since he acts very slowly and often fails to act at all.

Despite their flaws and their misguided (even bad) actions, the active Crawfords are more admirable than the book's more passive characters, like Fanny.

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