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Slavery, Gender, and Social Class in Mansfield Park: Sir Thomas Bertram, the Oppressor
Jane Austen's Mansfield Park exposes her critical thoughts regarding Britain's social and economic structure in relation to slavery, gender, and social class. Sir Thomas Bertram's selfishness and position as an aristocratic, absentee-plantation owner highly inform various oppressions addressed in the novel. The estate name of Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas's Antiguan plantation, and Sir Thomas himself allude to power and wealth created from slavery. The novel's presentation of marriage negotiations and the expectations coupled with the restrictions of women highlight gender oppressions. Sir Thomas's plantation, Fanny's position of servitude within Mansfield Park, and, most especially, the threat and prospects of a life lived in poverty address instances of economic oppression. I argue that Austen critiques British life using Sir Thomas Bertram as a symbol of oppression through representations of his controlling behavior in regard to slavery, domestic affairs, and class consciousness. Furthermore, it is Sir Thomas's tyrannical conduct that undermines his ability to effectively run either of the geographic locations under his dominion-the Antigua plantation or Mansfield Park-which exemplifies Austen's critique of Britain's continuing participation in slavery, gender subordination, and aristocratic power.