The clash between good and evil is eloquently symbolized in the
temptation the amoral Maria poses for the moral Edmund who is to be a
clergyman. This is the most beautiful, allegorical scene in the novel. The
“wilderness’ of Sotherton is a “natural artificial” labyrinth made of plants
and trees. The tempting of Edmund reminds the reader of the tempting of Adam
in the Garden of Eden, which is a comparison Austen would probably find
desirable. As Edmund remarks “we have taken a very serpentine course”, which
is an indication of how Edmund will be tempted to lose sight of his morality.
Mary’s tempting of Edmund can be interpreted in mythical terms. In trying
to take him away from his moral values and beliefs, and his calling in
life, Mary’s first weapon is flattery: “you really are fit for something
better”. Isn’t flattery the Devil’s first weapon?
This good v. evil battle is a subtle confrontation; a battle disguised
behind the mask of flirting or “love”. Austen’s obsession with disguise and
hypocrisy, which is also one of Shakespeare’s favorite themes, is also
expressed through her negative presentation of the “theatricals”, which are
presented as sinister and corrupting.
In “Mansfield Park” Austen also proves herself to be a truly feminist
writer. Few male characters in her novels are attractive, intelligent, and
in command. It might be hard to see how an introverted, shy, enduring
character like Fanny Price could be seen as a feminist figure, but Fanny is
indeed a silent hero. When she refuses to marry the rich Henry Crawford she
is accused of being stubborn, selfish, and ungrateful. Fanny is, of course,
merely trying to be true to herself. However, there is an irritating lack of
flexibility in her character: once she forms an opinion, it’s impossible to
change her mind (although she is always right in her opinions). Even the
good-natured Edmund is not Fanny’s equal. He can be too easily tempted by
female charms, whereas Fanny stands firm, upholding her beliefs and her
The ending of the novel presents the outcome of the battle between good
and evil, the consequences of the great crisis. While Austen presents evil masked in beauty throughout her novel, her ending
proves that good can indeed be masked in evil, as a result of certain outside factors. Good did in fact win over evil, but what was the consequence? What is the consequence when the masks finally fall?