Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a romantic novel that entertains readers through the fluctuation of a relationship amongst two opposite individuals. Nonetheless, the novel is more complex than an effortless love story. The main characters Elizabeth and Darcy, marry for affection while the others in the novel marry for convenience. As for them, the means of social stability and wealth are far more important than the compatibility within a spouse. The plot of the novel is developed around viewpoints of what marriage is and should be. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen uses satire and characterization to comment on the purpose of marriage pertaining to women in her lifetime.
In the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows a satirical outlook on marriage: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’.1 However, if the statement where to be held true then the entire plot of the novel is opposed. If it was held true that every single man who is rich wants a wife, then the female characters would not struggle to find a husband. The essence of Mrs. Bennet’s character would be gone, as she would not be in a frenzy to constantly seek husbands for her five daughters. Elizabeth would not have denied Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal, as there would have been no debate between either marrying for financial stability and fondness. There would not have been interference in Jane and Mr. Bingley’s relationship. Rather the argument that is made within the novel is that a woman seeks marriage as a means of financial stability, not love. As the novel develops, the use of irony in the first sentence becomes clear. Austen set the tone in the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, while also allowing the readers to view what she believed marriage was about during her era of life. Austen does not forgo that is it the need for financial stability that plays the most important role in the prospect of marriage, as it is shown within some characters and a theme. Throughout the novel, the narration uses humor and cleverness to create the character, Mrs. Bennet as someone who is consumed with the need to marry her daughters, with no other care in the world. Mrs. Bennet represents a satirical take on how women desire to marry wealthy because it is what has been taught in society. Through her arrangement of a match amongst Mr. Bingley and Jane, it is seen that Mrs. Bennet is rather greedy and foolish. She sends Jane into a storm to visit Mr. Bingley, potentially risking the death in the pursuit as it is her first priority to see Jane’s marriage to Bingley. Austen portrays satire in the fact that Mrs. Bennet is only concerned with wealth rather than the happiness and feelings of her daughters; an aspect of a lacking mother. Jane Austen used a satirical approach to portray the social standards of her time concerning the purpose of marriage in Pride and Prejudice.
Austen shows her views on the purpose of marriage through her characterization. Including Mrs. Bennet, there are other characters within the novel who are presented to signify their views or actions concerning marriage. Austen uses Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine’s views on marriage to indicate that certain views are simply ridiculous. Mr. Collins is characterized as someone who only cares about fitting into a restricted society and how others perceive him. He perceives marriage as a tool and believes that any woman would want to marry him because of his social rank; linking back to the first line of the novel. When Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, he attributes half of his proposal to his duty as a clergyman and the other half to Lady Catherine. Lady Catherine told Mr. Collins to marry as a way to make himself useful and “make a small income go a good way” (Austen 103).2 It is also later revealed that Lady Catherine used her wealth and social status to intimidate the proposal of marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy. However, she also had ulterior motives as she wanted her daughter, Anne de Bourgh to marry Darcy. Her character is quite defined by her feeling of superiority and selfishness, making her and her view on marriage selfish and economically based. Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s views on marriage are superficial and rely on social standings based on finance. Austen created specific types of negative characterization that would allow her to comment and criticize the reality of marriage during her time. It can be argued that Austen’s own beliefs of what marriage should be, are based on her positive characterization of characters. Elizabeth is characterized as intelligent and quick-witted. Throughout the novel, it is noticed that Elizabeth is not atypical women of her time and much more independent, much like Austen. When Mr. Collins proposes, Elizabeth refuses because for her marriage should be about love not convenience. She does not conform to the social norms of her time, for her marriage does not equal happiness. For Elizabeth, she is not concerned with wealth nor social hierarchy. She focuses on the individuals’ character and morality. Elizabeth views marriage as a want, not a necessity; and even then her standards are far more important than what money can offer. Austen uses characterization to portray characters in different understandings of marriage.
Austen uses literary devices to portray her skepticism on marriage. Through her satire, she exposes absurd standards and the lengths some would go to marry, which was considered normal in the 18th century. The different levels of characterization allowed for the comparison amongst foolish and idealistic purposes of marriage. These devices combined created an important theme within Pride and Prejudice… marriage. During the 18th century, women were only able to live a stable life by marrying someone who a percentage of the time did not truly care for them. Austen exposes these flaws and limitations of her society through the stories of characters in Pride and Prejudice. Allowing it to remain timeless on the insights of human nature.