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.
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.
Everyone either lies or is being lied to in Northanger Abbey. Working through deceit and uncovering it is a crucial part of the novel's plot. Lies and deceit are also major parts of the novel's commentary on the impolite aspects of polite society, and the frustrating parts of becoming an adult. Growing up and being out in the world are depicted as pretty precarious ventures here. Catherine especially has to deal with rumors and gossip and lies the entire time she is in Bath and Northanger Abbey.
No one is truly genuine in Northanger Abbey; everyone is behaving deceitfully or is acting in some way.
The old maxim "appearances can be deceiving" really sums up Northanger Abbey.
Ah folly, thy name is...well just about everyone here. Northanger Abbey is a satire, so widespread folly is to be expected. And it is delivered. Everyone here is subject to delusions and faulty assumptions. Everyone also does really ill-advised things that are generally comical at least. Austen invites us to laugh at the foibles of others, and she also asks us to consider the root causes for this mass of follies. In this novel, folly stems from classist assumptions, which is basically where someone thinks that his own class is awesome and that the lower classes are losers. So, think General Tilney. Folly also arises from believing rumors and from taking fiction too seriously. The list goes on. Faulty assumptions and deceiving appearances are crucial here. Ridiculous behavior characterizes every day life as well as the Gothic novels that the characters read.
Henry tells Catherine about the Gothic horrors of Northanger Abbey deliberately, in order to mess with her.
Henry was joking about the Gothic horror business and had no idea that Catherine would be foolish enough to take him seriously.
Northanger Abbey is largely a novel about novels and about reading habits. This book has an odd sort of self awareness of itself as a novel and the narrator often steps back from the story she's telling to consider it as a story. Rather than just tell us about Catherine, we learn about Catherine as a heroine and as a fictional character. Gothic novels are lampooned, or made fun of, here as well, and the text considers the oftentimes disastrous effects of certain kinds of reading habits. It's a rather complicated venture, but Northanger Abbey not only considers the effects that literature has on its characters; it also considers the effect Northanger Abbey the novel has on its real world readers.
Though Catherine traces her mistakes back to the Gothic novels she read, her reading habits are really another symptom and not the cause of her behavioral issues.
Northanger Abbey is not about the problems of reading too much, but is instead about the problems of reading books in a certain way – i.e., too seriously.
Teenagers and twenty-somethings dominate in Northanger Abbey, which is largely about growing up and maturing. Catherine in particular progresses from immature behavior and attitudes towards a much more mature awareness. Youth is also closely linked to the theme of "Foolishness and Folly." Granted, folly isn't limited to the young in terms of age (see General Tilney). Nor are all young people prone to folly (see Eleanor). Youth and a subsequent lack of experience often lead to folly, though. Youth here is more of a potentially problematic state of mind than anything else. And growing up is a matter of mentally and emotionally maturing for many characters.
Though Catherine has learned a lot of lessons, in many ways she has not really matured or progressed by the end of the novel.
Catherine is much more mature at the end than she was at the beginning of the novel.
Gender plays a deterministic role in the world of Northanger Abbey. Well, gender itself isn't magically determining things. Expectations that are influenced by gender are, however. The expectations surrounding gender influence everything from modes of behavior to reading habits. And these expectations produce definite results – to a point at least. The characters here frequently disrupt gender expectations: Eleanor reads history books, Henry knows about fashion, Catherine doesn't keep a journal like "most" ladies do. Gender definitely determines and structures the world in which these characters live, but gender roles and traits are also up for debate in this text.
Though Henry often makes fun of women, or at least society's, ideas about what women should do, he actually has fairly progressive views on gender.
Henry is being serious when he makes fun of women and thinks that he is better than them.
Making friends and trying to figure out true friends from false ones is a major part of Northanger Abbey's overall plot, as well as Catherine's personal journey and development. Friendships in this book are subject to the narrative trajectory of growing up and maturing. Catherine has to trade in her whirlwind, fun, and ultimately shallow friendship with Isabella for a more mature and rewarding, friendship with Eleanor. Northanger Abbey makes observations, both comical and serious, on friendships. The book also questions what makes a good, or even a real, friendship.
Catherine has to learn how to be a good friend over the course of the novel.
When she is questioning Eleanor about Mrs. Tilney's death, Catherine behaves in a self-centered manner similar to Isabella, and disregards Eleanor's feelings.
Different family dynamics are largely explored through contrast here: rich families and poor ones, families with numerous kids or very few, families lacking moms or dads, families living in villages or in fancy abbeys. Family identity is extremely important to all of the characters and helps to define their beliefs and their behavior. Family is a crucial component of individual identity and it is a largely inescapable factor in how characters are perceived by others in this text. Northanger Abbey focuses mainly on the Morlands, the Thorpes, and the Tilneys, and also explores how different types of families function in society and how they interact with each other.
The three sibling pairs featured prominently in the text actually have more similarities, in terms of their interactions and behavior, than they do differences.
One of the major lessons of the book is that you shouldn't judge individuals by their families.
Money makes the world go round – or at least the world of Northanger Abbey. Money determines economic and social class, which in turn dictates behavior. Class is central to the overriding marriage concerns that govern society at large, as well as the bulk of the novel's main characters. Money and class definitely create boundaries, but Northanger Abbey often focuses on how things cross these class boundaries: rumors, reading material, relationships, other 'r' words. Money often slams the boundaries between people back down, but usually not for long in Austen's text.
Northanger Abbey depicts a world where class boundaries are highly permeable and ultimately somewhat illusory.
Northanger Abbey criticizes wealthy and urban lifestyles and prefers simple, country life.
Love is generally pretty hilarious in Northanger Abbey, in all its forms: romantic, friendly, familial, first love, lust. This book is a lot like a modern day romantic comedy, but one that doesn't get so caught up in the whole dating scene thing that it ignores other kinds of love and relationships. All the kinds of love and relationships in this book are also linked to themes of growth and development. Catherine in particular has to learn to distinguish between manipulative or overbearing love and love of a more considerate and respectful variety. While love is often fodder for comedy here, it isn't totally lacking in more thoughtful overtones.
Despite what the end of the book says, Henry and Catherine actually may have a problematic marriage.
Though he isn't a murderer, General Tilney was still a bad husband.