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Essay/Term paper: Marriage: the perfect ending to pride and prejudice

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Social Issues

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Marriage: The Perfect Ending to Pride and Prejudice


An individual often finds himself in a conflict with the rules of
society. Occasionally, rebelling is the path to happiness. However, usually,
the real path to happiness is through compromise. This is the case in the early
nineteenth century England setting of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. In
the novel, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a lively, independent woman, whose family's
financial situation and whose strong mindedness suggest that she may never marry.
Mr. Darcy, is a rigid and proper man, who falls in love with Elizabeth, despite
their differences. By the end of the novel, Elizabeth and Darcy learn to
compromise, and, in doing so, become truly happy. In marrying, they not only
fulfill themselves as individual, but also affirm the principle values of
society. As in many of her novels, this marriage at the end of the novel shows
us Jane Austen's ideal view of marriage as a social institution.
The novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen gives us the reader a
very good idea of how she views marriage, as well as society. The theme of
marriage is set in the very opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice; "It is a
truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good
fortune, must be in want of a wife" (Austen, 1) As Norman Sherry points out,
this is Austen's way of implying that 'a single man in possession of a good
fortune' is automatically destined to be the object of desire for all unmarried
women. The statement opens the subject of the romantic novel; courtship and
marriage. The sentence also introduces the issue of what the reasons for
marrying are. She implies here that many young women marry for money. The
question the reader must ask himself is, does Jane Austen think this is moral?
Sherry shows us that Austen was not particularly romantic. She reveals these
sentiments through Charlotte remarks concerning her marriage to Mr. Collins.

"I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and
considering Mr. Collin's character, connections, and situation in life, I am
convinced that my chance of happiness is as fair, as most people can boast on
entering the marriage state." (Austen, 95)

Elizabeth, as Sherry points out, is not particularly romantic either, however
unlike Charlotte, Elizabeth has a certain picture of an ideal marriage in her
mind, and therefore would never marry for reasons other than love. We assume
that since Elizabeth is the main character, this is how Jane Austen sees
marriage. Since Elizabeth would not marry without love, we can also assume that
Jane Austen sees what Charlotte does as immoral. Elizabeth also feels that
marriages formed by passion alone are just as bad as marriages formed without
love. Elizabeth reflects on her sister Lydia's marriage; "But how little
permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together
because their passions were stronger then their virtue, she could easily
conjecture" (Austen, 232) We again see reasons besides love as the reason for
marriage. Jane Austen is not very optimistic about marriage, in fact there are
almost no happy marriages in the novel at all. Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet,
Lydia and Wickham, and Charlotte and Mr. Collins are examples of the ill-matched
and unsuccessful marriages in Pride and Prejudice.
The characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are not all
miserable by the end of the novel. Happy marriages in Austen's novels do occur.
Sherry illustrates this point. The right people eventually come together, for
example, Elizabeth and Darcy, the hero and heroine. The development of the
relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is the most important proof of the
whole overall theme of compromise. This relationship took work, it did not just
occur. Elizabeth has to learn to control her prejudices. She forms her
opinions very quickly and does not change them easily. Darcy has to learn to
evaluate people on characteristics other than social rank. He is too proud of
himself, as well as his high social class, and it affects his ability to relate
to other people. Both Elizabeth and Darcy have to change a little and come to
understand each other before they can be together.
In the novel, the theme of pride and prejudice is first introduced in
chapter three at the dance. Darcy, acting on his own pride, insults Elizabeth.
He claims that she is not handsome enough to tempt him. Elizabeth, overhearing
his insult, considers his remark as a direct stab at her own pride. This
succeeds in invoking a prejudice in her, against him that remains for the
greater part of the novel. She feels that he is far too arrogant and proud.
When Charlotte points out to Elizabeth that Darcy has a right to be proud
Elizabeth replies; "That is very true, and I could easily forgive his pride if
he had not mortified mine". (Austen 13) The entire novel consists of the
forming of pride and prejudice. The climax of pride and prejudice, as Sherry
sees it, is the first marriage proposal. It is the height of pride on Darcy's
part, and the height of prejudice on Elizabeth's part. The rest of the novel is
a sort of anti-climax, in which they begin to compromise and learn how to relate
to one another.
The theme of pride is built up in many different ways. One method
Austen uses to emphasize Darcy's extreme pride is by surrounding him with
characters with similar faults, although, their pride is much more severe and
much more insulting. The character in the story who represents an extension of
Darcy's pride is his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. s hen Lady de Bourgh meets
someone she sees only their rank and class in society. She does not appreciate
anyone for any other aspect of themselves. Sherry proves this by pointing out
the fact that she believes Darcy and her daughter should be married. She bases
her thoughts on their compatibility in ranks, neglecting the concept of love.
"My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended on the
maternal side, from the same noble line; and on the father's, from respectable,
honourable, and ancient, though untitled families. Their fortune on both sides
is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of
their respective houses...." (Austen, 266) Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, also
represent the pride which Darcy possesses. The fact that they feel entitled to
think of themselves well and other badly is proof of this, as Marilyn Butler
points out. Examples of their snobbishness is the condescension they show
towards Elizabeth when she tells of her walk to Netherfield. "That she should
have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by
herself was almost incredulous to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was
convinced they held her in contempt for it." (Austen, 24) Unlike the others,
however, Darcy's pride is humbled. Elizabeth manages this hefty task by
rejecting his marriage proposal.
We see the development of the theme of prejudice, right from the
beginning of the novel, when we have the pleasure of meeting Miss Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth's corresponding sin is much more subtle and her enlightenment takes
up the space of the whole book".(Butler, 206) As Butler shows, the readers
usually see the love between Elizabeth and Darcy as a love between two opposites,
because of the differences in attitudes and of course in rank in society.
However there are in actuality characteristics, although mainly faults, in which
there is a striking similarity between the two characters. This is Austen's way
of emphasizing to the reader Elizabeth's fault of extreme prejudice. Whenever
Elizabeth complains of Darcy's faults, she also touches upon one of her own.
For example, Darcy's disapproval of Wickham is very similar to Elizabeth's
disapproval of Darcy. Elizabeth is quick to see the faults of others, however
she is reluctant to see her own faults. Her first clue that she has allowed her
prejudices to stand in the way of judgement is that she was wrong about Mr.
Wickham, which consequently makes her wrong about Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth knows
that she must learn to be less prejudiced. By getting together, they benefit
each other. Elizabeth makes Darcy realize his faults and vice-versa.
Other ways of looking at the novel come to the same basic conclusion of
compromise. " Pride and Prejudice uses the familiar anti-thesis between art and
nature as the ground of the book's action. Elizabeth is portrayed on the side
of nature, feeling, impulse, originality, spontaneity....it wasn't possible for
Jane Austen to deprecate art all together.. the movement of the book is
compromise, as Elizabeth learns to take class into account, Darcy comes to share
Elizabeth's genius for treating all people with respect for their natural
dignities"(Klinger, Jane Austen and the war of ideas, 199)
The difference between Pride and Prejudice and other eighteenth century
novels, is that the heroines differ.

"Instead of the innocent, impulsive fallible girl, the heroine of Pride and
Prejudice dislikes, teases, and ends in part by debunking the hero... Where
other heroines were sycophants of social and masculine prerogative, Elizabeth
Bennet is fearless and independent." (Butler, 199)

The difference in the novel, is in Austen's approach to Elizabeth. By
making her as independent, and lively as she does, perhaps she is trying to show
society that this is acceptable. If society would learn to compromise and lose
a bit of it's rigidness, as Darcy did, then people would be able to fully
appreciate characters like Elizabeth Bennet.
Marriage is the only logical conclusion to this novel. Had the novel
ended any other way, it would have had no point. As said before, the movement of
the novel is towards compromise. Through marriage, Elizabeth and Darcy are
making the ultimate compromise. They are both changing a little about
themselves, so that their marriage can be successful. Had the novel ended
without marriage, then the realizations on both Elizabeth, and Darcy's behalf
would have been for nothing. Also, through the novel we see that Jane Austen is
using marriage as a way of representing society. An ideal marriage is
representative of an ideal society. If people used the same methods as a couple
would use to obtain an ideal marriage, then perhaps we would be able to obtain
an ideal society. By researching Jane Austen we know that most of the heros and
heroines end up at the end of the story in an ideal marriage; "to do all her
heroines justice, we must conclude that they all marry for love, and not for
other considerations. As to the social and monetary aspects of their marriages,
Jane Austen makes them 'all right'." (Sherry, 92) By having Darcy and
Elizabeth end the novel engaged in an ideal marriage is a significant detail.
Jane Austen, in doing this is suggesting that society would be better if it
followed Elizabeth and Darcy's example. By controlling pride and prejudice, and
by learning that compromise is sometimes the best way to happiness, society can
hope to improve itself. Marriage in the end, is the perfect ending, since it is
both an affirmation of the values of society as well as a personal fulfillment,
which it is for both Elizabeth and Darcy since they improve themselves by being
together.

WORKS CITED

1. Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice. New York. Bantam Books, 1813,1981.

2. Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford. Claredon
Press, 1975 3. Sherry, Norman. Jane Austen. London. Montegue House, 1966


 

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