By Gauri Saxena
Fiction is made up of dichotomies. The push and pull of the protagonist and antagonist serve to create the perfect narrative. Differences in opinion, and in action help move a story forward. The juxtaposition of striking characters is what lies at the heart of good literature.
Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s classic Sense and Sensibility is emotive, and willful. To her, one’s emotions must be fully felt, and fully expressed, regardless of the expectations of others. For her, the lack of a formal engagement between Willoughby and herself is not reason enough to not write to him. If they claimed they loved one another, why beat around the bush?
A century earlier, across the pond, Alexander Hamilton would agree with this assessment. Life is too damn short to throw away one’s shot. His focus was always on his goals. Anything that came in his way, be it his wife or his lover, were blown away- collateral damage on his road to fixing the state of his nation.
Both Marianne and Alexander are bold, and straightforward in their own way. They’re not afraid to go after what they want- be it a husband, or a seat in government. And the conventions, expectations, and polite reminders of those around them are of no importance.
They certainly embody some appealing qualities. The ubiquitous ‘carpe diem’ or the more modern YOLO seems to be crafted around them. Yet, they are not the narrators of their story.
In both Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and Miranda’s Hamilton, Marianne and Alexander play important (in the latter instance titular) roles, but the audience experiences their lives from the point of view of elder sister Elinor Dashwood, and frequent nemesis Aaron Burr, respectively.
Elinor and Burr serve as the antithesis to their frequently ‘Non Stop’ counterparts. Burr is depicted (ironically) as the poster boy for restraint. He knows what he wants, and is willing to wait for it to come his way. His philosophy-in politics and otherwise- is to play his cards close to the chest.
Similarly, Elinor Dashwood is calm, polite, and reserved. She is acutely aware of the responsibilities and expectations of polite society, and can maintain her composure in the hardest of times. Sure her beau might be engaged to another woman, but she can and will be civil towards her.
Elinor and Burr are by no means the same- the former definitely does not shoot her sister is a jealous rage. But as their stories unfold one sees certain parallels that transcend time, society, and circumstance.
With sense there comes incredulity. Elinor can’t help but wonder at the impropriety of Marianne writing to Willoughby without a formal engagement; and Burr outright laughs at Hamilton’s outspokenness, offering him the advice- ‘Talk less, Smile more, Never let them know what you’re against, or what you’re for’.
However, as we delve deeper, scorn seems to be replaced with intrigue tinged with a touch of envy. Elinor watches her sister lock herself in her room and wallow in her sadness, while she, equally heart broken, is left to entertain company. She notes with curiosity that there must be something quite freeing about being able to just let go and express oneself like that. On the other hand, Burr can’t understand why Hamilton’s is quickly rising to the top. He wonders aloud about what it must feel like to get everything you want.
Both works end differently, and are a commentary on very different things. Sense and Sensibility discusses society and marriage in upper class Britain. The novel explores the sisters’ opposing views on how they conduct themselves in society, and the trials and tribulations they both endure as they ponder the question- ‘is it better to love and lose from the rooftops, or within the quiet chambers of one’s own heart?’
On the other hand, Hamilton is an interpretation of the life of one of America’s founding fathers. It showcases two strikingly different men trying to navigate a similar path to fame and success.
Yet, there is something strikingly similar across both these stories. The audience is left to wonder about the different personalities that embody Sense and Sensibility. Are either ever truly satisfied?
Get your copy of Sense and Sensibility by clicking on the link below*
Gauri Saxena is a master’s student in psychology and has an eclectic love of creating rich backstories for fictional characters.