The Theme of Society in Pride and Prejudice
Originally written in the late 1700’s, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice satirically depicts the universal ideals in Old Regency England, primarily regarding social class. Austen follows the development of an outspoken middle-class British woman, Elizabeth Bennet, as she encounters and overcomes the many social barriers that separate her from her wealthy upper-class neighbors. Throughout the novel, Lizzie must confront society’s class-consciousness, particularly with her family’s growing relationship with the wellborn Bingleys and their friend, Mr.Darcy.
It is clear that the author, Jane Austen, intended Pride and Prejudice to be a parody of the Old English society’s extreme emphasis on the social class structure and marriage that is not based on the heart but instead on convenience. Although our present-day social class system is more flexible than it was back then, members of the elite, especially celebrities, are still more apt to marry other upper-class citizens, rather than their social inferiors.For example, in today’s society it is the standard for rock stars, actors and models to pursue partners from a comparable social class. Similarly, a marriage between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Anne de Bourgh, daughter of the distinguished Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is expected because both parties are of equally notable lineage and hail from the same prestigious family. The union between the two aristocrats was planned “while in their cradles”, according to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who makes a trip to Longbourn to see Elizabeth after hearing that she is engaged to Anne’s “future husband”.Lady Catherine is horrified that the anticipated matrimony may “be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family” and makes every effort to prevent any chance of an engagement between Elizabeth and Darcy. During this confrontation, Lady de Bourgh’s behavior towards Elizabeth is quite astonishing and completely supports society’s upper class prejudices and narrow-minded ignorant views towards the lower classes.
If Lady de Bourgh had not had such stately ancestry, she may have lowered her social status with her ridiculous conduct.Lady Catherine’s ludicrousness is most likely taken from her haughty ego, which society has helped create by holding the upper class up on a pedestal. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen speaks of a world where a person’s, more importantly a woman’s, reputation is a paramount obsession. A woman is made to believe to have to behave in certain ways; stepping outside the social normality makes her open to being banished from mainstream society. A prime example of this is when Lydia gets an invitation to visit and stay with the officers. Of course, Mrs.Bennet, the most obvious, oblivious, loud social conscious creature of Longbourn is all “happy go lucky” when she hears of Lydia’s call.
Mr. Bennet who is the most stoic contradictory of Mrs. Bennet is even excited. However, when the news provoking invitation turns into a merciless elopement between Mr. Wickham and Lydia Bennet it sends shockwaves through the Bennet household. By becoming Wickham’s lover without being married, Lydia clearly places herself outside the social “norm”, and her disgrace threatens the entire Bennet family and their standing in society.The fact that Lydia’s terrible judgment would have condemned the other Bennet sisters to marriage less lives is a ridiculous but accurate tell of the stress put on the hierarchy that is Old English society.
This theme also appears in the novel when Elizabeth walks to Netherfield and arrives with a muddy skirt, to the horror of the reputation-conscious Miss Bingley. At other points, the ill-mannered, ridiculous behavior of Mrs. Bennet gives her a bad reputation with the snobbish Darcys and Bingleys.Austen pokes gentle fun at the snobs in these examples, but when Lydia elopes with Wickham and lives with him out of wedlock, the author treats reputation and class as a very serious matter. Society is closely related to reputation, in that both have the strictly scrutinized way of life for the social classes of England. Even though the gap between the upper classmen Bingleys and the lower or middle classmen Bennets is as wide as the Amazon River, the Bennets may socialize with the Bingleys.However, they are obviously the lower level socialites and are treated as so.
A prominent example of this discrimination was the Bingley sisters’ rude and disrespectful manner towards Elizabeth while she stayed at Pemberley to comfort Jane when she was overcoming her sickness. Austen again satirizes this kind of severe class-consciousness in the character of Mr. Collins, who spends most of his time sucking up to his upper-class patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Though Mr.Collins offers an extreme example, he is not the only one to hold such views. His view of the importance of class is shared by Mr. Darcy, who believes in the dignity of his roots; Miss Bingley, who dislikes anyone not as socially accepted as she is; and Wickham, who will do anything he can to get enough money to raise himself into a higher station.
The satire directed at Mr. Collins is therefore also more subtly directed at the entire social hierarchy and the conception of all those within it, in complete disregard of other, more worthy virtues.Through the Darcy-Elizabeth and Bingley-Jane marriages, Austen shows the power of love and happiness can actually overcome class boundaries and prejudices, thereby showing that even if prejudices are hollow, unfeeling, and unproductive they can turn out to mean nothing to some people. Nonetheless, people similar to Miss Bingley as well as her friends are still trapped in the warped obsessive ladder that is the autocratic society that Jane Austen portrays throughout Pride and Prejudice. Words: 941