In Pride and Prejudice, a novel that aims to emphasize the flaws of a martially obsessed society, Jane Austen depicts various marriages. By contrasting the outcomes of each, Austen reveals her opinion on what constitutes a successful relationship. Through creating characters with extreme characteristics, she classifies each one to stress their traits, and examine their potential for happiness with one another. While Austen views most marriages in this society as superficial and lacking in true love, Austen ultimately approves of only spiritual connections.
With insight into the thoughts of each character, Austen is able to reveal their intentions, desires, and reactions to each relationship. She frowns upon the shallowness and flippancy of the Bennet family, and is thus critical of the relationships they form.
Austen’s view of an ideal marriage is witnessed through Darcy and Elizabeth. While they had unenthusiastic initial perspectives of one another, they overcame these repulsions, leading to their engagement. As the two became more acquainted, they became familiar with each others’ flaws, yet developed their relationship regardless.
The series of events that led to their friendship was crucial to their eventual reciproctating respect and adoration. Austen incorporates barriers between Elizabeth and Darcy to build a strong foundation, and to show that a vital part of a lasting marriage is knowing one another prior to making a commitment. Throughout the first part of the book, Elizabeth and Darcy exchange several harsh words, and are driven away by each others apparent rudeness, only to discover their common fondness.
This primary rejection provides Austen with a chance to show that judging based on first reactions is impractical and immature. It is not only silly to marry someone based on their looks, it is equally childish and unintelligent for one to reject another without proper knowledge.
Jane and Bingley’s marriage is another example of a strong relationship. The couple is devoted to each other, and their relationship is built similar to Darcy and Elizabeth’s. Through Lizzy, Austen shows the strength of the bond between Jane and Bingley, “….really believed all his expectations of felicity, to be rationally founded, because they had for basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself.” Austen acknowledges their sincerity, and their marriage is a happy and profound one. However, Austen warns that both Jane and Bingley are naï¿½ve and trusting, which could potentially lead to success for someone attempting to separate them. Both characters are likeable people that are prone to suitors, and Austen says that the two are “so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.”
By underlining both characters’ supposed perfection, Austen shows their genuine personality is never really revealed to one another. Elizabeth comments on Jane’s ideal disposition, “You are too good. Your sweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic; I do not know what to say to you. I feel as if I had never done you justice, or loved you as you deserve.” Jane’s beauty and popularity at the balls is also a barrier to her persona, preventing others from deciphering her true emotions. Jane compliments Bingley as she describes him, “sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — So much ease, with such perfect good breeding!” Jane’s first impression of him is a reflection of Austen’s caution that it is crucial to know one’s companion before committing to marriage. While Bingley remains charming throughout the novel, as his flaws are revealed, Jane is often oblivious to them.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s marriage is one that their daughter’s should theoretically strive towards, however in exposing the history behind their relationship, Austen shows the reader the consequences of marrying based on a physical attraction. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet lack a respect for each other, and constantly criticize one another’s approach to raising their five daughters. Mr. Bennet’s “[fatigue] with the raptures of his wife” are common, as he is annoyed by her frivolity and unintelligence. He finds refuge in his books and in mocking his wife and Mr. Bennet’s sarcasm towards his harmony with Mrs. Bennet reveals his irritation with the marriage. He challenges his wife, “this is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish,” thus insulting both Mrs. Bennet and their children. Austen’s depiction of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s attitude toward one another shows that a marriage that resulted from physical attraction is bound for failure.
Lydia’s marriage to Wickham is similar to that of Lydia’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s distance and lack of respect for one another is a foreshadowing of Lydia and Wickham’s future. Mrs. Bennet’s favoritism towards Lydia and her recurring mention of her earlier vivacity and giddiness that resemble her daughter’s emphasize the similarity between Lydia and her mother. Mr. Bennet’s comment of Wickham being his favorite son-in-law is also an example of the parallel between the two marriages. Through Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, Austen portrays a marriage that is rushed into. As their initial excitement gradually fades, Lydia resorts to spending time with her sisters while “her husband was gone to enjoy himself in London or Bath.” Austen does not devote much time to describing the relationship between Lydia and Wickham, indicating that their friendship lacked depth. Lydia’s traits are evident through both her actions and insight into her thoughts. Austen refrains from entering Lydia’s mind often to depict her simplicity and silliness. While Austen doesn’t deny Lydia happiness, she shows that it is impossible for someone who seeks wealth and acceptance to find their soul mate, and indulge in a successful marriage.
While their society conforms to Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins’ marriage, Jane Austen is skeptical of marriage with monetary and political motives. The relationship between them does not revolve around true love or even appearances, and is established solely to ensure Charlotte’s security. Austen condones this, showing that such relationships will never result in contentment and describing their lives in which “when Mr. Collins said any thing of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, she would involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear.” Mr. Collin’s wealth serves as an attraction for Charlotte; however the result of this enticement is a silent sorrow that Charlotte implies following her marriage.
Through detailing each character’s traits, Austen reveals that compatibility must evolve, and exists only between true soul mates. While there are marriages based on physical attraction, monetary value, and social class preservation, these repeatedly prove to be unsuccessful. The only union in Pride and Prejudice that carries a genuine and mutual love and respect is that of Lizzy and Darcy, who develop their relationship over a period of time, and are eventually confident in their need to be with one another. Austen’s cynicism and satire around most of the other characters confirms her conviction that happiness revolves around the kind of mutual love that Elizabeth and Darcy share.
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