In Jane Austen s Sense and Sensibility there is a theme that runs along with males in the novel. The first born sons are forced to deal with the promotions and abilities that come along with the laws of primogeniture, yet even with all they get they do not lead an altogether happy life. The men that are “first-born” are in fact too swayed by the power and obligation that comes with their estates. In the novel the first sons are viewed in a negative light, yet the second-born sons have less responsibility to be what society wants them to be and are allowed to be his own.
Although Edward Ferrars, is a firstborn, his mother disinherits him because of his lack of focus and ability to be all she wants him to be; as John Dashwood remarks “Robert will now to all intents and purposes be considered as the eldest son. ” We know that Colonel Brandon is a second son because he has an older brother who married his old sweetheart, Eliza, many years before the novel’s plot begins. And whereas these characters are the heroes of the novel, all the eldest sons are cast in a negative light, including John Dashwood, Robert Ferrars, and Colonel Brandon’s older brother.
In Austen’s day, the eldest sons were the ones who inherited all the family property according to the laws of male primogeniture. However, in spite of these inheritance laws, it is the second sons who ultimately find happiness in the novel; thus they make content lives for themselves despite societal and financial constraints. This conflict starts at the beginning of the novel, “but to his son and his son s son” (p 2) with John Dashwood s acquisition of the Norland estate. After John receives the inheritance and the estate, he is from then on viewed in a negative manner.
He is a weak man and is constantly influenced by his petty, greedy and mean wife. “He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather coldhearted and rather selfish to be ill disposed Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been more respectable than he was: he might even have been made amiable himself. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself: more narrow-minded and selfish. ”(p 3). His choice of wife, a systematic marriage for money and social stature affects his ability to be viewed as a decent character and he is viewed as a whole with his wife, which degrades him even more so.
As far as the Ferrars Brothers are concerned, Edward is the first-born son who “seemed to be a second Willoughby” (p 224) but loses his position when he refuses to marry Lucy Steele a rich heiress and wanting to in turn marry Elinor. “Mr. Ferrars has suffered from his family he has been entirely cast off by them for persevering in his engagement with a very deserving young woman. ”(p 243). When he is disinherited he also is dismissed of all constricting obligations that come with it, these go straight to his younger brother Robert.
Robert marries Lucy when she learns of his inheritance and switches her loyal affections from Edward to Robert. The nameless Colonel Brandon s brother we learn is the first-born son as well. The Colonel s first love Eliza was forced into marriage with his older brother to save their estate and family s well being another one of the steps in the formulaic society in the times. His brother treats her very poorly, “My Brother did not deserve her; he did not even love her for she experienced great unkindness”(p 176).
Brandon brother is viewed as a horrible and inconsiderate man who put the love of his life, Eliza into the state she was in when the Colonel came back from India, suffering from consumption in a “bath” in London. Ultimately, the only second-sons in the novel marry the two protagonists of the novel. The concept of the second son is that they have the ability to think on their own, and choose their own path not the one society plans out for them.
“What Edward had done to forfeit the right of eldest son might have puzzled many people to find out nd if Edward might be judged from the ready discharge of his duties in every particular, from an increasing attachment to his wife and his home, and from the regular cheerfulness of his spirits, he might be supposed no less contented with his lot, no less free from every wish of an exchange. ” (p 329) The same occurred with Colonel Brandon, he “was now as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband as it had once been to Willoughby. ” (p 330)
Being and individual and having the ability to do so is a prevalent theme in this novel. It applies the men who do not have to pressure and obligation to laws of primogeniture who can choose their own path. It also applies to the women who are viewed by society as “poor” but in fact will become rich because they do not have to bow down to society s rules and systems. Despite the way people dealt with life in that time had to constrict to these rules to feel successful yet, the most successful characters in the novel are the ones who were brave enough to break away from the conformity.