"Your father thought only of them. And I must say this: that you owe no particular gratitude to him, nor attention to his wishes, for we very well know that if he could, he would have left almost everything in the world to them." (2.6)
Fanny's flagrant disregard for the wishes of John's father demonstrates a curious lack of respect for the dead – her vision of family obligation is clearly on that doesn't extend beyond this mortal coil. Her view of family is also limited to the immediate family, and therefore more self-interested than one might expect.
"What are Mrs. Ferrars's views for you at present, Edward?" said she, when dinner was over and they had drawn round the fire; "are you still to be a great orator in spite of yourself?"
"No. I hope my mother is now convinced that I have no more talents than inclination for a public life!"
"But how is your fame to be established? for famous you must be to satisfy all your family; and with no inclination for expense, no affection for strangers, no profession, and no assurance, you may find it a difficult matter."
"I shall not attempt it. I have no wish to be distinguished; and I have every reason to hope I never shall. Thank Heaven! I cannot be forced into genius and eloquence." (17.2)
Edward's discomfort with his mother's plans for him is clear – he's simply not cut out for the role that his family imagines for him.
Elinor placed all that was astonishing in this way of acting to his mother's account; and it was happy for her that he had a mother whose character was so imperfectly known to her, as to be the general excuse of everything strange on the part of her son. (19.2)
Family here serves as an excuse for inexplicable behavior – it's natural that the one thing that usually motivates weird actions here should be blamed even when there's no proof.
His want of spirits, of openness, and of consistency, were most usually attributed to his want of independence, and his better knowledge of Mrs. Ferrars's disposition and designs. The shortness of his visit, the steadiness of his purpose in leaving them, originated in the same fettered inclination, the same inevitable necessity of temporizing with his mother. The old, well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all. (19.2)
Here, Elinor comes right out and blames the "fettering" relationship of mother and son for Edward's weird behavior – family, we see, is a kind of ball and chain, as well as a support mechanism.
Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow anything; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring, were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent incroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissars stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. (21.6)
Austen pauses to meditate upon the forgiving, over-indulgent nature of motherhood, something she seems to do with some degree of both fondness and disdain.
Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne's warmth, than she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon's eyes, as they were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only what was amiable in it; the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point.
Marianne's feelings did not stop here. The cold insolence of Mrs. Ferrars's general behaviour to her sister, seemed, to her, to foretell such difficulties and distresses to Elinor, as her own wounded heart taught her to think of with horror; and urged by a strong impulse of affectionate sensibility, she moved, after a moment, to her sister's chair, and putting one arm round her neck, and one cheek close to hers, said in a low, but eager voice:
"Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make you unhappy." (34.34-35)
Marianne's sisterly love emerges here, proving that, despite their troubles, Elinor and Marianne have a profound bond. Perhaps a little too profound on Marianne's part, based on her uncontrollable emotions.
One thing did disturb her; and of that she made her daily complaint. Mr. Palmer maintained the common, but unfatherly opinion among his sex, of all infants being alike; and though she could plainly perceive at different times, the most striking resemblance between this baby and every one of his relations on both sides, there was no convincing his father of it; no persuading him to believe that it was not exactly like every other baby of the same age; nor could he even be brought to acknowledge the simple proposition of its being the finest child in the world. (36.5)
We get a break from the tension of the love plots with the birth of Charlotte's child. Here, we see the delightful side of family bickering – inconsequential but loving arguments about how amazing the new baby is.
After a few moments' chat, John Dashwood, recollecting that Fanny was yet uninformed of his sister's being there, quitted the room in quest of her; and Elinor was left to improve her acquaintance with Robert, who, by the gay unconcern, the happy self-complacency of his manner while enjoying so unfair a division of his mother's love and liberality, to the prejudice of his banished brother, earned only by his own dissipated course of life, and that brother's integrity, was confirming her most unfavourable opinion of his head and heart. (41.17)
Wow, we can't believe that this is the kind of treatment poor Edward has had to put up with his whole life. Between Robert, Fanny, and Mrs. Ferrars, we can't see any compelling reason for him to be sad about being disowned.
When the dessert and the wine were arranged, and Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor were left by themselves, they remained long together in a similarity of thoughtfulness and silence. Mrs. Dashwood feared to hazard any remark, and ventured not to offer consolation. She now found that she had erred in relying on Elinor's representation of herself; and justly concluded that everything had been expressly softened at the time, to spare her from an increase of unhappiness, suffering as she then had suffered for Marianne. She found that she had been misled by the careful, the considerate attention of her daughter, to think the attachment, which once she had so well understood, much slighter in reality than she had been wont to believe, or than it was now proved to be. She feared that under this persuasion she had been unjust, inattentive -- nay, almost unkind, to her Elinor: -- that Marianne's affliction, because more acknowledged, more immediately before her, had too much engrossed her tenderness, and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughter suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation, and greater fortitude. (47.22)
Even Mrs. Dashwood has grown up along the way in this novel – for she now appreciates and understands Elinor's personality more than she ever did before. Now that everyone's home again, all of the characters start to see each other more clearly.
Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating. For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward, a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.(50.2)
Mrs. Ferrars is more ludicrous than ever – her trading in and out of sons is kind of hilarious. She obviously treats her family somewhat like a baseball team; she only wants to keep the ones that might be advantageous in the long run. However, we're still glad that Edward has been accepted back into the family.