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Social Class in Pride and Prejudice

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Authors many times reflect the current time period that they are in and reflect their society in their novels. Jane Austen was no exception as “she did a fair amount of reading, of both the serious and the popular literature of the day” as stated by pemberley.com. Jane Austen criticizes and portrays the societal norms at the time as well as to show the problems in her society. The social classes at the time were a big aspect of society.

The social environment of her life was formed with classes dividing up was embedded in family and the money they had. Jane Austen is very critical in the presumptions and prejudices of England, especially higher class people. They would determine their life choices and their daily operations according to the class that they were associated with. She creates a break between a person’s goodness and what they own such as their social rank and possessions. She also brings up the role and status of women at the time. She taught that women didn’t need to depend on men. These ideas are similar to Mary Wollstonecraft who wanted women to leave the house and get jobs that men do. Although there are many topics that are covered in the novel, Jane Austen focuses mainly on social classes in the novel and criticizes the ideas of class structures during her time.

One of the most prominent examples of the societal conservation and superiority is Mr. Collins and his dealings with the other characters. He wants to marry to get the estate for himself as well as get married to one of the Bennet daughters. He is not doing it for love rather he is doing it because clergymen like himself have to set an example with marriages due to their stance in society. He also thinks it will give him some false happiness and finally, he is doing it to please Lady Catherine. Marriage is a common job for Mr. Collins and he believes that with his social status as well as his wealth, he should get a wife easy peasy. However, when Elizabeth actually rejects him, he states, “my situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. ” He literally says that Elizabeth is making a mistake by rejecting him due to the fact that he has a high social status as well as his connection to other high social status people. In reality, Elizabeth is saying no because she knows that Mr. Collins wouldn’t provide her with happiness. Mr. Collin’s idea of class superiority is very much reflective of the higher class at the time of the novel and shows that a person with his position has influence in society.

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Darcy would be another example of showing the effects that come with his social status and his connections to the other characters in the book. He is seen as socially awkward and can’t engage in small talk. Yet, he still knows his place and class position is greater than most people. This is shown in his thinking that due to his class position, he doesn’t need to dance at the ball in the beginning of the novel. Darcy tells Mr. Bingley, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” Darcy knows that he is better than the people in the room and doesn’t see the need to talk to the other women in the room. This is also shown in Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth in which he says that even though she is beneath him and marrying her would reduce his status, he was willing to put that aside because he loves her. The social position of Darcy influences the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy and shows the effects of status and wealth on a person at the time.Men were socially seen for being the beacon for women and saviour of women and that women essentially had no choice but to marry for security because without a man, they basically had no value and no assurance that they would live to see a new day. They had to marry for a man’s fortune but not for love.

This idea is expressed in the piece, Advice to the Newly Married Lady in which Samuel K. Jennings talks about what women should do who have been married and how they should act relating to what men think. It was believed that men were clearly superior to women and their wives. The wives needed to yield to them and that they must submit completely to their husband’s needs and put their own aside. They couldn’t question where they were in life and stating “your husband your own companion”. Women could only be successful and accomplished through a good marriage. Women were limited in their freedom to choose the husbands they wanted and the love they wanted which led to little considerations for their feelings and their opinions. This is also portrayed in the painting The Settlement by William Hogarth shows the dealing between a higher class individual as well as a rich merchant. It shows that marriage is basically like a business deal and that the woman gets almost no choice in their life. The couple sitting in the chairs show that they are ignoring each other.

The most prominent detail in the painting is the two dogs chained together to try to get together to show the connection to the couple’s loveless marriage. This whole idea of women needing to marry for security is present throughout the novel. Elizabeth’s first love was Wickham and she sees him as the best man she has met. The thing with Wickham is that he has no class status nor does he have a lot of money, which makes him an unsuitable husband. This leads to a reason as to why she might want to marry Darcy, he has what Wickham lacks. It is also Elizabeth’s social position as a woman that affects the relationship between Darcy and her as well as how people saw the women. Another example of the social status concerning women is Lydia and her running away. Her act of running away shows the impact on the other characters as well as how it affects them. Elizabeth hearing more details about the news from Darcy makes her feel shameful of her family and that Lydia is a source of the family’s weakness. Mr. Collins, more focused on how this is affecting the family’s status claims that Lydia’s death would have been a better alternative to her running away and that she should be disowned by the family. This mash of differentiating opinions and hate of Lydia is showing how important status is and the rules of the societal norms at this time.

Lastly, women were seen as inferior to men and couldn’t do things that men could. This sentiment is stated by Ms. Bingley when he proclaims, ‘A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.’ She claims that to be a woman, you must be able to know how to play music and draw, be able to sing, and have a graceful walk. This was the settings that were needed to have a woman be a woman and it shows the societal standards of the women at the time.

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Social Class in Pride and Prejudice. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-class-in-pride-and-prejudice/
“Social Class in Pride and Prejudice.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/social-class-in-pride-and-prejudice/
Social Class in Pride and Prejudice. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-class-in-pride-and-prejudice/> [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022].
Social Class in Pride and Prejudice [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Dec 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-class-in-pride-and-prejudice/
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