Persuasion

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The Navy Symbol Icon

The Navy is discussed by many characters in the novel, from the admiring Louisa and Henrietta to the more pragmatically appreciative Anne. As a vehicle of social mobility, it offers the potential for men from less prominent social standing, through hard work and merit, to climb the ranks of status and earn their fortune—two components that grant men distinction and importance in Austen’s society. For this reason, the novel’s conclusion references the Navy as possessing “domestic virtue” as well as national importance. Captain Wentworth’s marriage to Anne is enabled largely by his ability to make his fortune and rank through the navy.

For the very same reason that the Navy represents socioeconomic mobility through feats of distinction and valor, Sir Walter regards it with wariness and distaste. Sir Walter, as landed gentry, desires a society fixed by aristocratic bloodlines. He has great pride in his family lineage and in his estate, Kellynch Hall, and he recognizes the threat that those who rise through marrying money (like Mr. Elliot’s first marriage) and those who climb the ranks of Navy pose to his own conservative vision of social hierarchy. In general, Austen seems to support the positive and romantic notion of the Navy as a valid, adventurous, and more meritocratic means of social distinction—a symbol of private as well as public virtue.

The Navy Quotes in Persuasion

The Persuasion quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Navy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Persuasion published in 1997.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Yes; [the Navy] is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as a means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly.

Related Characters: Sir Walter Elliot (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Navy
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Walter, as pompous and foolish as ever, tells us a lot about his character in this passage. Walter and his family are trying to decide what to do about renting their place out; Mrs. Clay (Elizabeth's friend) suggests that they rent it out to Navy men who've come back from active duty. Walter objects to such an idea because he disapproves of the Navy altogether. As far as he's concerned, the Navy is bad because 1) it makes handsome, youthful men ugly and worn out, and 2) it allows low-class people to rise to high-class positions in society.

In other words, Walter's reasons for hating the navy are basically the same as his reasons for loving himself. Walter is so slavishly devoted to the ideal of the English aristocrat that he can't stand the idea of any kind of meritocracy; the idea that a person should attain success because of his own merits, not because of his family tree.

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The Navy Symbol Timeline in Persuasion

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Navy appears in Persuasion. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Mr. Shepherd recommends that Sir Walter consider a man from the Navy for his tenant, as the end of war will be returning many to England. Sir... (full context)
Chapter 4
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Persuasion Theme Icon
...the future, as he has by now attained a handsome future and rank in the navy. Having been prudent in her youth, she has learned romance with maturity. Now that Captain... (full context)
Chapter 6
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
...Wentworth. Her son Dick, a troublesome and stupid youth, was sent to work in the Navy and served under Captain Wentworth. She recalls that Dick spoke highly of Captain Wentworth, who... (full context)
Chapter 8
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Henrietta and Louisa eagerly question Captain Wentworth about the Navy. Mrs. Musgrove grieves at this reminder of her son, and Captain Wentworth sits by her... (full context)
Chapter 11
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
...the town. They meet Captain and Mrs. Harville, who are Captain Wentworth’s friends from the Navy. They are generous and welcoming people. (full context)