Pride And Prejudice: Revealing Of Social Realities
The society depicted and featured in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has entrenched societal systems that conform to the conventionally high standards and behaviours of certain social classes, predominantly women. It is undoubtedly clear that the reputation and standards of those who lived this society during the early 1800’s, revolved around the compliance of socially constructed behaviours, morals, and proprieties. Women of all ages could be heavily criticized over different opinions and standards when it came to subjects like education, labor, and the most significant theme of all throughout Jane Austen’s novel: marriage. Marriage rituals have highly developed throughout time, but the concept developed in this novel goes above and beyond; showing marriages as the pursuit of higher social status and wealth and not as an act of true love. Elizabeth Bennet, as the self-reliant and non-conformist heroine in the novel, prides herself in her individualism and trusts her own perceptions of marriage, never recognizing that her judgements are in fact shunned by most men and women during that time. She refuses to be oppressed by the traditional idea that one should marry in order to achieve great wealth and social status. It is her ideal belief that one should marry based on the attraction and genuine affection between a husband and wife, otherwise it becomes a social restraint and deprivation of true love. Thus, making Elizabeth Bennet an “outlier” in a society that normalizes the irrational and unbelievable practice of marriages based on interest.
During this time period, young women of age were expected to set out into the world in search of a man of true class and wealth, just as men were expected to marry virtuous, dutiful, and uneducated women who were less likely to rebel against men or society. Elizabeth was well aware that men often searched for women with ignorant intellectual opinions, because physicality and talent were far more important to offer to a man rather than love and loyalty. Even her friend, Charlotte, had fallen under the impression that in order to live a life of extravagance and happiness, marrying a man of wealth is the only route to that destined lifestyle. This further shows that women of that time period were in complete disregard of the moral and ethical consideration of love, and mainly interested in improving social image, financial security, and a sense of purpose in life. According to Charlotte, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collin’s characters, connections in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him as is as fair, as most people can boast on entering into the marriage state.” It was another common belief that Elizabeth disagreed with the most, which held that a sensible woman accepts the first proposal lest she receives another offer. This is what distinguished Elizabeth from the rest of the women in her society: her sense of self-worth, and the understanding that she could have much more to offer than her beauty and much more to expect from a true gentleman rather than his wealth. Elizabeth’s idea of marriage goes beyond the social and economic advantages that influence Charlotte and her mother because even without ignoring the role of money and social class in marriage, she prizes the romantic and values love more than its perquisites.
There is a powerful aspect about how Elizabeth is able to express her intelligence and her individuality, in a world where strict social conformity is demanded. Unlike the rest of society, Elizabeth is able to value something or someone not based on what it can offer and how she can benefit from it, but more about the true value and worth of that particular thing or person. Unlike the rest of the young women her age, she is able to freely express her strong character without compromising her femininity. She is able to stand up for what she believes is important, speak her mind freely, and disregard status, yet she never aspires to be better than men in a man’s world. Elizabeth simply strives only to express her own unique feminine individuality and attitudes towards the importance of genuine love in marriage. Throughout the novel, women marvel and dream about the possibility of marrying a man like Fitzwilliam Darcy, a man who can offer them fortunes and stability, two of the things that are engraved into the minds and souls of young women who wish to “prosper” in life during that time. Consequently, it is clear to see that Elizabeth’s perspectives and behaviours towards these expected traditions have shaped an individualistic mindset that differentiates her intentions versus that of any other young woman looking to marry. Elizabeth remained true to her standards and proved that affection and true love goes above and beyond, and that nothing tangible can compare to a relationship and a feeling that profound. This easily makes Elizabeth Bennet an outsider and outlier to the expectations set to young women her age during that time period, choosing to trust her heart before her mind, and pursuing her destined life full of true and genuine love.