Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, a young Englishwoman raised by her prosperous aunt and uncle due to her parents' poverty. She grows from a child into a woman under their care, falling in love with her cousin Edmund, and eventually marries him. The novel reflects on wealth and status in Victorian England. Its various characters represent ideals and caricatures of Victorian morality and many Victorian stereotypes are addressed and subverted.
The world of the novel draws heavily upon the symbolic meaning of locations and events. The first critic to raise this aspect was Virginia Woolf.
For instance, the ha-ha in Sotherton Court is a boundary which some will cross, while others will not, thus indicating the future moral transgressions of Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford. Later on in the novel, the theatricals (based upon Lovers' Vows ) in which the company is involved at the request of Tom Bertram (with the exception of Fanny Price) is further indication of real life future behaviour.
The game of speculation has been viewed as a symbol by Penny Gay, who quotes David Selwyn saying the card game was a "metaphor for the game Mary Crawford is playing, with Edmund as stake".
The theme of country versus city symbolises that which is natural and life-renewing over against the artificial and corrupting effects of society. In the stargazing scene in Book I, the starlight symbolises one's capacity to transcend selfish preoccupations and the suffering they cause, over against the candlelight, suggesting small-minded concerns.