In Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, there is a strong sense of identity in certain characters in the novel. Elizabeth has a high understanding of her own views and opinions, which often contrast with those around her “She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion was not exactly like her own”. However, other characters seem to have inflated self-regard, which causes the other characters to behave differently to them, Lydia shows no remorse for the disgrace and pain she put her family under “But you know married women have never much time for writing. May my sisters write to me. They will have nothing else to do.” In The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman deals with self-knowledge in a way that allows the reader to interpret it for themselves, is the narrator lacking self-knowledge or finally receiving it at the end of the novel?
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen shows Elizabeth grow as a character, away from her intolerant attitude at the beginning of the novel, to her open-minded nature after she discovers the truth about Mr Darcy. Austen often conveys Elizabeth’s thoughts to the reader through the use of free indirect speech. Initially, Elizabeth thought of Darcy to be “having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance” however, as she gains a clearer understanding of his behaviour her prejudice turned to admiration of his behaviour “No; hatred has vanished long ago, and she had almost as long been ashamed of ever feeling a dislike against him”. Elizabeth’s progression as a character shows that she obtained a clearer understanding of not only her own identity but of others.
However, Elizabeth has always been portrayed to have a strong sense of individuality when it comes to conventions, showing her sense of identity. When Mr Collins; her pompous, self-important cousin, proposes to her, Elizabeth has no apprehensions in declining the proposal, much to her mothers dismay. “You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so.” Mr Collins is shown to be a character whose idea of their own identity is portrayed
differently to what those around him think of him to be, “not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society”.
Mr. Darcy is shown to experience a growth in self- knowledge throughout the novel. Initially full of pride, the reader gets information from Mr. Darcy’s perspective primarily through dialogue. “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”. The fragments of information that Austen allows the reader to obtain from Darcy, initially shows him as how Elizabeth saw him, to be rigid, self-righteous and antisocial. However as the novel develops Elizabeth’s opinions of Darcy changed, leading to more positive perceptions of him through coloured narrative, “Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment, but gratitude”, which showed the reader that Elizabeth was grateful for Darcy’s kindness to her despite her prejudices.
Furthermore, Darcy himself changed from having excessive amounts of pride, to opening up about his feelings “I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a women worthy of being pleased.” The use of the word “insufficient” shows how much development Darcy undertook throughout the novel, and how he finally understood how his behavior came across originally, when he was uncomfortable in his environment.
On the other hand, Jane Austen represents Lady Catherine de Bourgh to have a lack of self-knowledge, which becomes increasingly obvious for the reader towards the end of the novel. Lady Catherine had an inflated self-esteem, due to her wealth and social standing, and Austen portrays aristocracy in a bad light by showing Lady Catherine to be discourteous and condescending, especially towards Elizabeth and the Bennet family. “Five daughters brought up at home without a governess!_ I never heard of such a thing.” However, Lady Catherine’s disdainful tone is met by suitable respect from Elizabeth though Elizabeth stands up for herself in a way that Lady Catherine was not used to “Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a direct answer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence.”
The coloured narrative from Elizabeth’s perspective shows that “dignified impertinence” would often have seen admirable from someone with so high a status as Lady Catherine. Elizabeth’s answer also shows Elizabeth’s confidence in being herself, as she doesn’t feel the need to conform to what is expected. Lady Catherine’s lack of self-knowledge is shown by her inability to respond to being responded to in this manner.
A lack of self-knowledge is also shown in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel The Yellow Wallpaper, however the theme of identity is more crucial to the plot of the play, as it is arguable whether or not the narrator has self-knowledge, especially towards the end of the novel. “’I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘In spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’” One reader perception of the novel could be that the narrator slowly turned mad, until she believes herself to be the woman in the wallpaper. However, the situation is depicted from the narrator’s perspective, which doesn’t allow the reader to have a clear balanced view on the situation. The novel needs the readers to separate themself from the narration. Although from a readers perspective, the novel shows a lack of self-knowledge, from the narrators perspective she is finally free and who she wanted to be.
As in The Yellow Wallpaper, Lady Catherine’s lack of self- knowledge is most evident towards the end of the novel, where Elizabeth finally dismisses her rude behaviour. “’You can now have nothing farther to say… you have insulted me, in every possible method.” Austen portrays Lady Catherine to try to frighten Elizabeth into submission through her aristocracy yet Elizabeth stood her ground, which eventually showed Lady Catherine that intimidation doesn’t always work “Her ladyship was most highly incensed.” The use of the word ‘incensed’ showed how unaccustomed to being argued against Lady Catherine was and how she was always used to getting her own way due to her class.
Lydia Bennet also has a lack of self-knowledge, though it was obtained through immaturity and lack of thought for others “Jane will be quite an old maid soon, I declare… Lord, how ashamed I should be of not being married before three and twenty!” Lydia shows a similar insensitivity as Lady Catherine, and Jane Austen allows the reader to interpret Lydia’s lack of self-knowledge through dialogue, as Lydia speaks almost non-stop about herself and her interests.
Finally, the presentation of the theme of identity is an aspect presented throughout Pride and Prejudice and The Yellow Wallpaper, whether it is an increase in the knowledge of identity from Elizabeth and Darcy “the change was so great… she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible”; to the lack of self-knowledge and a large amount of self importance in Lady Catherine “Miss Bennet, do you know who I am?” and Lydia. Although a lack of self-importance is prominent in The Yellow Wallpaper, it is presented differently as the narrator is not shown to be pompous or have high self-regard; she is just shown to have lost control over her thoughts.
In The Yellow Wallpaper, the theme of identity is significant to the main plot of the novel, however, in Pride and Prejudice identity is not what draws the reader in. Although the reader is happy to see the development of Elizabeth and Darcy’s characters; as it is what allows them to see through their differences and fall in love, the theme of identity is not necessarily what draws the reader in, but their acknowledgment of their similarities.
Courtney from Study Moose
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