Symbolism & Foreshadowing in Mansfield Park

I am ridiculously bad at recognizing foreshadowing in a piece of literature when I read it the first time.  I find myself so wrapped up in the story and the characters that I tend to ignore (or be completely oblivious to) hints of upcoming events.  I am forced to admit it… I am a page turner.  So with that said, it is not surprising that upon finishing and reflecting upon Mansfield Park, I find myself floored by just how much of the ending Jane Austen gave me as I read the book!  Granted, I did figure out that Fanny and Edmund were probably going to end up together (although, I will admit to doubting that fact several times throughout the novel); but I did not see Henry running away with Maria.  Maybe I just liked Henry a little more than I was supposed to.  However, as I went back and began to think about the events of the novel, I felt like I needed to be in one of those V8 commercials so that somebody could smack me in the forehead for being so clueless.

From PBS’s Complete Jane Austen Series

There are two HUGE examples of foreshadowing that tell the entire story in miniature.  The first is the visit to Sotherton and its garden when the characters divide into small groups.  Edmund and Mary wander off together, which isn’t really the story.  The Bertram girls, Henry Crawford, and Mr. Rushworth’s adventure is much more telling.  Maria allows Henry to help her into the “wilderness” behind a locked gate and a ha-ha (Don’t worry, I didn’t know what a ha-ha was either 😉 ) on the backside of the garden while her fiance, Mr. Rushworth is scrambling trying to find the key.  Maria is facing marriage (not a glorious prospect) and the locked gate may be symbolic of that upcoming constraint.    Henry Crawford’s role is that of aiding and abetting Maria Bertram’s escape from the garden (possibly a suggestion of the Garden of Eden with it rules and restraints of goodness).  This exact scenario is replayed at the end of the novel as Henry leads (or is led) into adultery when he finds himself coldly greeted by the woman he once shunned, something intolerable to his pride as a “ladies’ man.”

Another glaring example of foreshadowing is the young people attempt at amateur theatre.  The play chosen, Lovers’ Vows, gives them the opportunity to act out everything they wish they could do in real life.  Maria and Henry work very diligently on a scene that has the two “actors” employed in an embrace as mother and long-lost son, and Mary Crawford’s character has to confess her love for Edmund’s character and propose marriage (Lane). All of this “acting” prepares us for the ending of the novel when Mary begins pushing for a proposal from Edmund and Maria and Henry disappear into the notoriety of an adulterous affair (well, at least the play prepares readers who aren’t oblivious “page-turners” like I am).

The final example of symbolic foreshadowing and my personal favorite is the gifting of the gold chains to Fanny from Edmund and Henry. Fanny’s beloved brother, William, gave her an amber cross but was unable to provide her with a gold chain with which to wear it.  As the ball approaches, Mary offers Fanny her choice from a collections of chains on which to wear the cross. Fanny chooses one after much ado, only to find out that she has been tricked into accepting a gift from Henry. Later, she discovers that Henry’s necklace will not fit through the cross – the necklace is incapable of uniting itself to William’s gift, suggesting that Henry’s affections for Fanny will not join William’s fraternal love of his sister.  In the meantime,Edmund has left (with no ado whatsoever) the gift of a simple gold chain that unites perfectly with William’s cross.

The cross on the left was Jane’s, the other was Cassandra’s.

This is probably my favorite example of symbolism and foreshadowing because of it quiet obviousness.  Though it is understated, it is a glaring illustration of what is going on in the undercurrents of Fanny’s love life.  I also love that William’s gift of the amber cross mimics something from Austen’s own personal life.  Jane’s brother, Charles (a naval officer), used his first L30 prize money on topaz crosses for his sisters (Lane).  I just love that!


1 Comment

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One response to “Symbolism & Foreshadowing in Mansfield Park

  1. Perfect example at the gate with Henry and Maria – I hadn’t thought about it that way when I finished the novel. Love it!! It makes perfect sense.
    And of course the chains for the cross is the perfect sign for Fanny and her love for Edmund!! Love!!

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