Jane Austen, like her most beloved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is a keen observer of the nature of man in society. To simplify her studies, and to give her readers a better understanding of the concept of Pride and Prejudice, Austen does not focus our attention on the larger social structure as a whole, but skillfully directs our consideration only to a small, isolated segment of the society.
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen scrutinizes a microcosm, people dwelling within similar cultural and social backgrounds, but representatives of the larger human community. Austen demonstrates in Pride and Prejudice through Elizabeth and Darcy that in man’s perennial pursuit of the joys in life, those who conform too strictly or not at all to the existing social norms face the danger of never finding their place in life nor ever finding personal happiness. Elizabeth Bennet is a person worthy of our imitation.
She is a model because she is different from all the other characters, except Darcy, and because she does not adhere rigidly to the standards set forth by society, “where the family and the community…tend to coerce and even predetermine the volition and aspirations of the self”(Tanner 125). She is self-reliant and independent, while “contemptuous of all the conventions that restrict the individual’s freedom”(Litz 65). Darcy observes Elizabeth as “…sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention…disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking and thinking for [men’s] approbation alone”(Ghent 185).
Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collin’s proposal because she does not think that “marriage was the only honorable provision for a well-educated woman…”(Lauber 45). Nor does she believe in marriage of convenience. When Mr. Collins says arrogantly to Elizabeth that, “My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh”(Austen 82), are reasons that she should accept his offer because “in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you”(Austen 83), she politely refused him. “I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible”(Austen 83). Unlike Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth would never violate her principle and her integrity and throw away her talents by marrying Mr. Collins, a conceited, narrow-minded, and pompous fool. In one sense, she is a non-conformist because “she looks to nature rather than society or traditional authority for the basis of her judgments”(Litz 65). Elizabeth looks to nature because she puts her trust in her own perceptions and impressions. On the other hand, she is not ready to rebel against society. “It is part of her attraction that her energy and vitality seem to keep her right on that boundary where the constraint threatens to away to something less willingly controlled”(Tanner 136). She does not totally disregard social propriety. She has good manners; her slight breach of decorum-walking alone to Netherfield Park-is justified by her genuine concern for her sister who is ill. She has good manners. Elizabeth is not like her mother who is offensive and unlady-like. “For heaven’s sake, madam, speak lower.-what advantage can it be to you to offend Mr. Darcy?-You will never recommend yourself to his friends by so doing”(Austen 76). When Lady Catherine criticizes Elizabeth over her piano, playing she listens “with all the forbearance of civility”(Austen 132). Also, when Darcy proposed to her the first time, she was able “to conjure up a polite refusal of his impolite offer”(Horwitz 49). Elizabeth demonstrats that she has great restraint even under tremendous pressure. Elizabeth realizes that she must take responsibility for her own education because she can not look to either of her parents for advice, and she must ultimately depend on her own experiences, instincts, and judgments. Her self-reliant attitude causes her to think of herself as independent, but her views are distorted because she also regards herself as above normal social relationship. Elizabeth is unconscious that she suffers from pride. “She learns from her father’s example to take delight in the follies and vanities of others; she sees everyone’s mistakes but her own”(Johnson 95). She does not realize the inherent dangers of her error. According to Darcy, Elizabeth’s defects are her willful tendency to misunderstand others. She embraces stubbornly her own quick perceptions about the people around her as true and accurate. The flaws in her character are revealed by her prejudices. Elizabeth’s initial prejudices against Darcy are rooted in the pride of her own quick perception, and her distorted perception of reality. Elizabeth wants to believe that Darcy is bad, so she naturally gives Wickham the benefit of the doubt when he told her about Darcy’s breach of agreement without hearing Darcy’s side of the story. “How abominable!…If from no better motive that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest. For dishonesty I must call it”(Austen 61)! “Elizabeth prides herself in her individualism and trusts her perceptions, never recognizing that her judgments are really grounded in her feelings”(Johnson 75). Elizabeth was disposed to think badly of Darcy because of his ungentlemanly behavior, but she thinks well of Mr. Wickham because his charm, his smoother facade, and his sharper wit endears him to everyone. Her prejudice renders her incapable of judging the merits of Darcy and the short-comings of Mr. Wickham. “Socially acceptable and commonly accepted rules of social behavior provide a morally acceptable standard of social behavior”(Nardin 14), but Elizabeth’s independent character causes her to distort her perception of moral propriety, leading her to misjudge Wickham and Darcy. Minor rules of propriety governing matters of fashion or convenience may sometimes be violated, but rules connected with moral principles cannot. Elizabeth misperceives Darcy’s [awkward](Nardin 49) and [cold](Nardin 49) demeanor, but polite manners as [ungracious, selfish and rude](Nardin 49). “Your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of…your selfish disdain of the feeling of others…”(Austen 97). Mr. Wickham has bad manners, but she convinces herself that they are good. Elizabeth justifies to herself the unjustifiable violation of propriety when Wickham revealed confidential information to a stranger. “A man in distressed circumstances has not time for all those elegant decorums which other people may observe”(Austen 67). She was blind to the impropriety of Wickham’s behavior in telling her so much about himself and Darcy. On the surface, Elizabeth is just ordinary. She is “attractive but not beautiful; she is endowed with certain graces and talents, but not unusually gifted, she is appealing without being exquisite”(Dwyer 67). In the end, she wins everything-the prince, the castle, the happiness, and the esteem. Elizabeth will find happiness because she learns to recognize her faults, but characters like Lady Catherine and Ms. Bingley will never find happiness because they do not learn from experience. Elizabeth becomes more of a lady than Lady Catherine. Elizabeth triumphs over Lady Catherine, She pits her “inherent sense of the values of humanity against the Lady Catherine’s pretensions of rank”(Ghent 185). Lady Catherine’s defeat was brought about by her arrogance. Her display of egotism not only failed to dissuade Elizabeth from marrying Darcy, but led Darcy to propose the second time; “It taught me to hope…as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before”(Austen 275). Lady Catherine’s disdainful act makes Darcy realize that Elizabeth still has some feelings for him. If Elizabeth had been “absolutely”(Austen 275) and “irrevocably”(Austen 275) decided against him, she “would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly”(Austen 275). On the other hand, Ms. Bingley possesses self-defeating cunning. One night after dinner at Netherfield Park, Ms. Bingley “…soon afterwards got up and walked around the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed was still inflexibly studious”(Austen 41). She will also never find enduring happiness. Elizabeth’s independence was less encompassing than she first imagines for when Darcy unexpectedly appears in Pemberley, she is struck with “embarrassment impossible to overcome”(Austen 186), and her “cheeks…were overspread with the deepest blush”(Austen 186). Elizabeth’s blindness ot her faults was opened by Darcy’s letter. “what is good and true in life resists the perversions of the individual view point-Alistair M. Duckworth”(Johnson 80). She learns to judge others more accurately and not be blinded by first impressions. Elizabeth realizes that “whenever she discusses Darcy’s faults, she unconsciously touches upon her own”(Johnson 75). She realizes that thought “Darcy’s manners have lacked graciousness, the strict propriety which has generally marked them is most valuable as evidence of sound and firm moral values”(Lauber 53). Elizabeth’s confession that she was guilty of prejudices based on her own judgment tells us that she is superior to the other characters, such as Lady Catherine, Ms. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Wickham, but above all that she is human. “Only after we recognize our faults can we rid ourselves of our faults”(11), and her learning experience has allowed her to gain self-knowledge. “Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love has been my folly- pleased with the preference of one [wickham], and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance and driven reason away where either was concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.” (Austen 156) A person who never comes to the point of saying “I never knew myself”(Austen 156) doesn’t have self-knowledge, and “if we don’t know ourselves, we won’t know the world, the reality, and what we cannot surely know, we fabricate, we assume, and we misjudge”(Tanner 125). She also realizes that people cannot be judged based solely on appearance, and that character evaluations must also take into account the “substance behind a person’s appearance”(Horwitz 99). Elizabeth becomes a “rational creature speaking the truth from her heart”(Babb 429). Without neither family wealth nor wisdom to aid her, Elizabeth’s success is a attribute to her inner strength. Darcy in the beginning is snobbish and proud. “I certainly lack the talent…of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in the concerns, as I often seen”(Austen 56). Darcy lacks con
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