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Society of 19th Century in Pride and Prejudice

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Social class defines the characters in the novel of Pride and Prejudice. Discuss how Jane Austen appears to satirise society’s flaws.

In the world of Pride and Prejudice, a novel written in the early 19th century, written by Jane Austen, individuals are demarcated by their marital opportunities and financial holdings. The author satirises societal flaws in the ridiculing and exposing of aspects of the novel. The satirical nature in which Austen writes is reflected in aspects of society throughout the characters. Austen mocks the flaws that characters in the novel portray, and furthermore presents these characters to reflect the broader concepts of society.

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Throughout the novel, Austen poses an important contention relevant to both modern day society, and old English society. She questions how people maintain their individuality in a world of social pressures and restrictions. The novel mainly explores branches of society, including the rigid social structure. Elizabeth Bennet, one and arguably the most mature of 5 Bennet sisters, is a victim of the restrictions put on her as a lower class woman. She is limited by the common belief that because you are who you are you must act a certain way. This is clearly portrayed in Mr Collins’ proposal to her, in which he makes it clear to Elizabeth that her family portion is so little that it will likely “undo the effects of her loveliness and amiable qualifications…” and restricts and demeans her according to her low stature. This high expectation comes through in the men’s supposition of what a perfect wife should be – one that holds wealth. In the novel, it is clear that the wealthy class are allied, as Collins proposal eloquently reflects the opinions of views of Catherine de Bourgh, who Mr Collins pays homage to. Towards the end of the novel, Lady Catherine makes her opinions known to Lizzy (Elizabeth) herself. When Lady Catherine gets word of Darcy’s affection for Elizabeth, she outwardly refuses to believe or accept it. She objects that “… a young woman of inferior birth” could possibly marry a man of such high repute. It is an impossible concept to many women in particular in their society that a woman of such low stature could possibly marry a man on the opposite end of the hierarchy. It is more ridiculous to the people that surround the characters than to the characters themselves. Society poses many restrictions on the members of the lower class and holds a ban of movement of people in this hierarchy.

Most characters in the novel do not live up to their prejudiced representation, however many continue to treat others according to preconceived opinions. This is a commonly explored topic in the novel, and it becomes clear that people are regarded according to their prejudices in order to preserve societal standards. This is portrayed throughout the pride and prejudices characters possess. Miss Bingley is regarded as a woman with too much pride, and considers herself of too high rank to socialise with anyone lower. She is often presented as vain. The distinction between pride and vanity is made early in the novel. Mary comments that “…pride relates more to the opinion of ourselves, vanity to what others think of us,” both these things Miss Bingley is guilty of, particularly towards Elizabeth and her vanity with Darcy. Lizzy, however, does not give way to the opinions of others often. When Jane falls ill at the beginning of the novel, she is forced into the care of the Bingleys and Mr Hurst. Lizzy is determined to see jane, no matter the state she is in when she arrives. It is almost incredible to Mr Hurst and Miss Bingley “… that she should’ve walked three miles so early in the day in such dirty weather, and by herself.” Miss Bingley holds Lizzy in contempt for this, despite it only being their first meeting. Pride and prejudice is commonly explored throughout all of the novel in exposing the flaws of society and the people within it.

The views that characters in the novel hold are of a wide variety and many deride the imperfections of society. Lizzy is arguably the only character that stays true to herself, her identity and takes pride in her upbringing. Austen’s views are eloquently portrayed through Elizabeth as her opinions are more passionate and intelligent than anyone in the novel. As seen in Darcy and Elizabeth’s discussion about accomplished women, it is obvious they hold conflicting views. Darcy states he knows only six accomplished women, in which he also gives prominence to his excessive expectations. Lizzy is rightly surprised, saying “… she is no longer surprised at (his) knowing only six accomplished women, (she) rather wonders as (his) knowing any.” By this, Austen is not only mocking unrealistic societal expectations, but reflecting her own opinions through Elizabeth. Mr Collins provides much comic relief and is a great example of irony for the duration of his appearances. This is because he introduces and further presents himself as a wealthy man with many companions and connections, but instead pays patronage to Lady

Catherine, contradicting his having much wealth and companionship. Austen uses his character to convey the irony and satire of society as Collins feels like he needs to act like he is widely admired and of a higher class in order to fit in. His “…pride, obsequiessness, self-importance and humility” instead has the opposite effect and repels most people he comes across. Mr Darcy lifts himself above others (namely, Lizzy) due to his high station. Austen derides him in this instance as Darcy is in no way (apart from his wealth and status) superior to Lizzy as Darcy is intellectually and socially equal to her, if not, inferior. The attitudes that characters in the novel possess ridicule and satirise the expectations and prejudices they hold for others.

Social standings demarcate individuals and judge them based on what they own and who they know. This is relevant even nowadays, as it becomes clear in the novel that characters are judged based on these criteria. “Pride and Prejudice” calls attention to the flaws in human nature in the pride and prejudice everyone, no matter how hard one may try, possesses. In essence, Austen emphasises the essential need to let preconceived opinions one places on themselves and others to fall away.

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