Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular novels written by Jane Austen which was first published in 1813. It is more than a story of love which revolves around the lives of the Bennett family and the wealthy male visitors of Hertfordshire. Its wide variety of personalities in the story contributed to the novel’s attractive and compelling features; which provides several realizations to its readers and their view of social class, marriage and women status in the 19th century which can be attributed to each character’s personality. The Women and Men of the 19th Century
The theme towards courtship and marriage is already explicitly stated in the first sentence of the novel. “It is a truth universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (p. 3). In this initial sentence, Austen prepares the readers on what to expect. There is a big probability that the story will revolve in a fascinating chase: either a husband in search of a wife or a woman in pursuit of a husband. Marriage during 18th century was different compared to how marriage is viewed nowadays. It was a challenging and debatable social issue since marriage with love was not a necessity.
At that time, marriage consisted of rules and standards that often ignore emotions or feelings. Moreover, community and family were major participants in establishing marriage. From that first sentence, considering the time the novel was created, the readers would expect a witty tone towards marriage and society The novel also portrayed several characters that are stereotypical in the 19th century. The diverse personalities of each character reveals how the era was like for the author and how the status of people were determined through their wealth, fame and gender.
Apparently, the primary lesson that this novel has for its readers is the fact that in the past love was not a necessary element of marriage. Women were usually seen as mere wives for men. Nonetheless, in Austen’s story, she made use of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s conflicting characters to refuse the kind of stereotypical 19th century setting that the novel was set in. The two major characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, were clearly different kinds of people who later proved themselves to be the ideal match for each other.
Clearly, the transformation of Elizabeth and Darcy’s characters were made possible by their own pride and prejudices against each other. This fact, therefore, illustrates the idea that the character transformation would most likely not occur without the shortcomings and hasty judgments of the two main characters of the Jane Austen’s famous novel. It was quite ironic though that the novel also conveys the idea that people do fall in love under the most unexpected circumstances. There is a short line expressed by the female protagonist Elizabeth Bennett which can be considered somewhat explanatory of the whole novel.
“Books—oh! No. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings” (p. 82). This is Elizabeth Bennett’s response to Fitzwilliam Darcy when he asked her about her thoughts on books. They were dancing on the ball of the Netherland Estate and trying to create a conversation. Based on Elizabeth’s response and her quick dismissals of the topic that Mr. Darcy brought up, her great dislike towards the wealthy young man was evident. This particular line of Elizabeth Bennett is considered an important line for the novel because it insinuates a symbolic image rather than a literal meaning for the main characters in the story.
Her remark about how the topic of books would not be able to create a productive conversation because they probably would have not read the same book or have the same feeling towards it depicts that their personalities—similar or not—can still generate different interpretations. Even the title of the book itself can be considered characteristics that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy both possess, which caused them to make erratic conclusions about each others’ personality. The above statement from Elizabeth depicts that the novel primarily focuses on the theme of misunderstandings, false impressions, and lapses in judgment.
Thoroughly reviewing the whole context of the story, the diverse personalities of the characters are what made it possible to provide the picture of the lifestyle of English people in the 19th century. Each character is provided a characteristic that is distinct to other characters. Elizabeth Bennett, an interesting character indeed, possesses traits which are very much different from her sisters. Here is one of her statements to Darcy included in Chapter 19 where she rejects him the first time he proposed to marry her and considered to be one of the pivotal turns in the story which caused the change in both Elizabeth and Darcy’s character:
I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. . . I thank you again and again for the honor you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. . . Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart (p. 97). Elizabeth Bennett’s character speaks much of a strong personality which is extremely opinionated and bold. Unlike her younger sisters, she does not allow social status and wealth to interfere with her standards for love.
However, in her statement, prejudices toward Darcy are evident for she has already judged him without knowing him well first. However, at the end of the story, she regrets having misjudged the man upon knowing the real Fitzwilliam Darcy. This theme of wrong first impression is very common in the personality of Elizabeth Bennet as she always seem to misjudge a man’s intent such as that of Darcy and Mr. Wickham. On the other hand, Darcy’s character also reveals how wrong he was on his first impression towards Elizabeth.
His statement where she declared Elizabeth as tolerable but not beautiful enough to interest him because of her poor social status discloses how proud he was to avoid being acquainted with such a woman (p. 9). Similarly, he took back his word when he found out how interesting and intelligent Elizabeth was which led him to confess his feelings and offer a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, his first proposal was rejected. Upon the end of the novel, it is reasonable to conclude that Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy actually have similar characteristics which can be considered ironic.
Both are intelligent, witty, opinionated, and proud. There are also instances when they have exposed acts of prejudices towards some characters in the story, primarily themselves. Elizabeth deemed Darcy to be an extremely arrogant and proud man when she accidentally heard him say that he was not interested in her due to her poor status in the society. She thought him to be a spoiled wealthy man who is unsociable and selfish. In return, Darcy also showed his prejudices towards her by thinking that she was not right for him because she belonged to the lower class part of the society.
Hence, the situation indicates how their impulsive and superficial judgments of each other led them to take back their words and eradicate their pride and prejudices towards each other. They gradually transformed into humble beings who were capable of admitting and accepting their shortcomings. Thus, two people, even with similar characteristics may not have similar outputs and can still be regarded contradictory in terms of beliefs. Like the characters in the story, all have distinct personalities which enabled them to decide the way they did.
If Elizabeth did not hastily judged Darcy in the first place which led her into rejecting his first marriage proposal, Darcy would not have humbled himself into further pursuing Elizabeth despite her initial rejection. He would not have rescued her family from social disgrace and reveal his true nature. Simply put, Elizabeth would not have change her opinion about Darcy and most probably reject him still. She would not have fallen in love with him and change her ways of being filled with prejudices.
The following scenarios created a huge impact in the maturity and development of the characters in the story which proves that the transformation is indeed dependent on the characters’ actions and decisions. Upon understanding the difference between the main characters’ personalities, it is important to note that the focus of Darcy is to win Elizabeth’ heart to marry her. It is all about marriage from the start of the novel until the end. Austen made it really clear for women in the 19th century how big an issue it was to find someone rich and reputable to marry.
Elizabeth’s mother had seemed to push them into marrying by taking them to social balls where rich men were most likely to come and select a wife. Conclusion Clearly, the arguments stated above identify the concept that Elizabeth and Darcy’s character transformation would not have been possible without their mistakes and initial false impressions of each other. This validates the fact that their development as individuals is highly rooted from their decisions and hasty judgments—or rather their own pride and prejudices.
In addition, Austen’s ability to inculcate the stereotypes on the characters produced an image of the status of marriage and courtship in the 19th century. It becomes clear to the readers that there was too much consciousness and pressure on the physical attributes and reputations of women than in men. Men were more highly regarded than women as women only seem to serve as partners to men in marriage. The fact that there were balls where men can choose the women they want to marry is already an indication of the restraints that society puts on women. They are merely intended for domestic purposes only.
Courtney from Study Moose
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