Pride and Prejudice' Argumentative Essay

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Let me set the scene, you’re all dressed up in long skirts and layers of clothes spending your day practicing the piano, walking in the country, and reading, and a guy who’s related to your dad and is going to inherit his business from him, shows up to your house and proposes to you..... Now you are looking at this guy that you have no feelings of love for, what do you do? Decline his proposal? NOO! Because you’re supposed to be an innocent, sweet, timid, obedient girl and accept an advantageous proposal that comes your way! This is how women were expected to behave in this society of the 19th century, as demonstrated by Jane Austen’s characters in Pride and Prejudice such as Jane Bennet and Charlotte Lucas. But Austen also says you don’t always have to follow society’s expectations as shown by her heroine Elizabeth Bennet.

Today I am going to talk about ways in which Pride and Prejudice depicts a society in which a woman’s reputation is of the utmost importance. A woman is expected to behave in certain ways and to have particular attributes. And she had obligations to her family. She was also paraded as an object for marriage and criticized by the rest of her social group if she did not snare a husband. It is difficult for us who live in the 21st century to imagine how constrained these women were. Moreover, while a woman could control her behavior and her demeanor, and ensure that it was in keeping with the social expectations of the time, she had no status of her own as that was dependent on that of her father or her husband. Women could be misjudged, mistreated, and discriminated against by their society. And it was very difficult to mend a reputation, once it was lost. Therefore, it is not surprising that women were encouraged to lead submissive lives where they met the expectations of their society.

The novel, Pride and Prejudice, deals with the lives of the Bennet sisters, who belong to a family that is part of the middle class. The girls’ lives and behaviors are limited by the roles open to them and their expectations of them. Within this depiction, Austen shows us a range of reactions to that society’s expectations. Several of the women transgress the constraints placed upon them and, we, as modern women, tend to cheer the standout in this group, Elizabeth, when she challenges others’ expectations of her. Ultimately, however, by the novel’s conclusion, Austen shows that most of her female characters have, by and large, settled for the narrow roles and behaviors that their society demands.

Women in Pride and Prejudice are judged according to strict standards of marriage and behavior. Bingley, one of the Bennets’ wealthy neighbors, says that he ‘ had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls,’ while Darcy, Bingley’s friend sees them as having ‘little beauty and no fashion.’ Women are judged by their physical appearance but there is also much discussion in the novel about the importance of an ‘accomplished’ woman. Miss Bingley states that ‘ a woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages...she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions....’, presumably to be such a woman. How many of us could come anywhere near these sorts of standards? Too bad if your talents were Maths and hockey and all the other pursuits you were hopeless at! Some women, like Jane Bennet, strive to achieve these standards, whereas Kitty and Lydia Bennet flout them and Elizabeth challenges the absurdity of such high expectations. She is happy to voice her own opinions as she does confidently when arguing with Lady Catherine, Darcy’s aunt, in conversations that she has with her throughout the novel. Therefore, Austen, through her characters, demonstrates that women of the 19th century were able to challenge social expectations, however, it was generally not accepted by society.

‘It is truthfully acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’. Austen uses her sense of irony from the opening sentence of the novel to show the burden placed on women in this society to marry well - and this means marrying someone of good fortune. Society decrees that marriage to one of good fortune is crucial for women if they are to hold any position at all in society as women of this class are incapable of financially supporting themselves without a husband. For a woman to be unmarried, older than twenty, was considered a burden to their families and society would look down on them. Charlotte Lucas represents the traditional women who are not interested in marrying for love. She marries for social status. Mr. Collins, a wealthy man, is looking to please the wishes of his patroness by finding a wife and Charlotte recognizes that accepting his proposal is a sensible choice for her. Austen takes her narrative perspective inside Charlotte’s mind to show us the acceptable way of seeing marriage......

‘Without thinking highly either of men....., marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their.....preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it’. - Austen makes it clear that, according to the social standards of the time, dependent women have a limited chance of living a fulfilled life. However, Austen shows that Charlotte’s life is a reasonably satisfactory one, as she follows the social expectations of getting married for security, financial survival and to ‘have a comfortable home.’ Poor Charlotte, we can’t help being grateful that we can find ways like marriage to ensure that we do not “want”. But she seems quite contented in the end with her choice. Remember, there wasn’t divorce in these days except in very, very special cases and then the woman lost everything – home, children- everything but the clothes she stood up in.

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Several of Mrs. Bennet’s daughters, though, challenge the codes of behavior and the social expectations that would make their futures secure. Jane behaves impeccably with beautiful manners and civility yet her marriage to Bingley initially fails because of her mother’s embarrassing behavior and that of her sisters, Kitty and Lydia.

Jane loves and admires Mr. Bingley not for his yearly allotment, but for his person and character, and her feelings are reciprocated. ‘Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than first attachments often boast; and so.....did she value his remembrance, and prefer him to every other man...’ Jane Bennet is one character who does not challenge social conventions, as she is lucky in a way that everything falls into place for her.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is different from her family members in her manners and understanding of life. Moreover, Elizabeth expresses her opinion and has a sharp tongue, which generally astonishes those who believe that women cannot be allowed such freedom. Her unconventional independence challenges the 19th-century stereotype of women, who tended to conform to the expectations of society. During her conversation with Lady Catherine, who is a very powerful and wealthy woman, who belongs to the aristocracy, Elizabeth answers a lot of questions and asserts her opinion on the social norms. “The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth, as the first. And to be kept back on such a motive!.. I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.” Lady Catherine is shocked by this reply as Elizabeth openly challenges the social conventions concerning the female attitude of the 19th century.

Another event that demonstrates Elizabeth’s independence of thought occurs when Lady Catherine confronts her because she believes that Elizabeth and Darcy will marry. Elizabeth asserts her opinion as she speaks to Lady Catherine. She says ‘He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal’ Elizabeth does not care about money, rank, or class in society and she does not think of Mr. Darcy as her superior; she believes them to be of equal worth. Elizabeth asserts that no one else but herself can control her decisions which she chooses in her own life and happiness, regardless of class and rank in society. Note though that Elizabeth takes her status from her father. Can you imagine using your father to justify who you are rather than standing on your own merits??

Elizabeth having been ‘suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence’ therefore proving herself to be a lady who does not care about class and rank in society. Her attitude towards marriage is different from others. She has the desire to marry for love not only for financial survival. Her romantic values contrast with those of society. Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth and she rejects his proposal. “I am perfectly serious in my refusal.—You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so.” When she rejects Mr. Collins’s proposal, her mother is furious as society suggests that in such circumstances women should accept the marriage proposal they receive. Elizabeth challenges society’s standards by refusing to marry without love. She declines Mr. Darcy’s first proposal because she believes him to be an iniquitous man. Elizabeth’s stubbornness could have made her the nemesis of an authoritative man, but she is inattentive about this. Fortunately, Darcy loves Elizabeth “for the liveliness of her mind.” Elizabeth’s strong and brave personality sets her apart from every woman of her time, as she places character above appearance, and openly challenges the social conventions of her time.

Lydia, Bennet, the youngest of the Bennet sisters, has free spirits that lead her to the most disgraceful act of all. She endangers the position of her sisters in marriage when she runs away with Mr, Wickham since no one would marry them if the news of her elopement became public. Her reputation and social standing are already ruined, however, by the fact that she has lived with him alone and unwed for two weeks. Only marriage can save her from being rejected by society. It is fortunate for everyone that Mr Darcy pays Wickham to marry Lydia. Again, imagine how social media would light up if people realized someone had paid a man to marry you!!

Jane Austen gives us a satisfying concluding chapter of the novel. We have a clear description of how things are for all the main characters, as they move into the future. Despite her challenging of her society’s values, Elizabeth marries a very wealthy man and is very pleased with being mistress of Pemberley. Jane Bennet also marries well and for love and her obedient nature would never let her challenge society’s rules anyway. On the other hand, Lydia’s immature behavior leads her to behave in an inappropriate manner that is against society’s expectations, only marriage, in the end, allows her to regain respectability. Meanwhile, Charlotte Lucas is represented as the traditional 19th century woman who behaves according to the social expectations of that time as seen when she marries for status but not out of love. Jane Austen’s 19th-century women risked much if they decided to challenge the social expectations of that time.

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