Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel written by Jane Austen which discusses women’s duties or roles in the home or work force, and how they have changed for a better life for women. For work duriung the 18th century, “Generally this work was done for the benefit of the family, not the outside world. “Women’s Work” would have included such activities as spinning, weaving, and churning.” (Gender roles in Colonial America). Women also didn’t have many rights and did not receive much respect. Women were very oppressed victims of a patriarchal society. During this time marriage was a means of survival because when thinking about women in the workforce in the 18th-century women typically didn’t work. It was very difficult for an unmarried woman with no prospects to make money because they have very little power. The title also has a large role in the story because they are so much talk about women and social standing which helps portray the theme that Austen was trying to convey. Pride is confidence and self-respect that someone feels about themselves or a feeling of satisfaction with their achievements. Prejudice, on the other hand, is a preconceived opinion on others that is not based on reason or any experience. Jane Austen uses these two terms to address how women’s roles are in her society, and does she do something for women, or does she sentence them to the same fate as everyone before her.
Prejudice is a big part of the theme and it is discussed through the whole novel even when it beings with a powerful statement that would seem to shows that Pride and Prejudice reinforce the stereotypes from the 18th century. Austen says ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’ (Austen 2) because this talks about the well-known idea that women’s worth and secure future is determined by the man that she marries. This also introduces one of the central themes of the novel which is when Mrs. Bennet, Miss. Elizabeth’s mother does everything in her power to get her children married off. Mrs. Bennet says ‘a single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. what a fine thing for our girls’ (Austen 3) because due to the nature of women’s social status at that time a woman being able to marry into wealth is a great way for the woman to secure the bright and comfortable life that everyone wants to be able to live. This is the type of life that Mrs. Bennet feels that her children deserve to live and she feels as if though it is her responsibility to help them achieve that type of lifestyle even if it means setting them up with a socially acceptable man despite her daughters wants. This is another example of marriage being a means of survival because it was treated as a business first and love second. However, upon further examination of whether or not Pride and Prejudice reinforce stereotypes of women or not it becomes more clear that Austen does not reinforce this idea.
The conclusion that the Pride and Prejudice reinforce the general ideas of women stereotypes during the 18th century is a hasty one because Pride and Prejudice eradicate the sexist stereotypes of women during this time, and the prejudice that surrounds the women. She does this through the character of Miss Elizabeth when she shows up a muddy dress, declines a marriage proposal from Mr. Darcy. This also shows how things have changed for women over time because in the 18th century anything a woman does affects how people view them, and it reflects their future. Miss Elizabeth’s muddy dress represents a woman being considered the low class and having a low social standing and being unfashionable. Generally, low-class women have many children and can’t get a wealthy man to support them. This really breaks the mold of how women were treated because “women who “broke the roles” faced public ridicule, and occasional legal admonishment for their actions” (Gender roles in Colonial America). This is also how every male writer has portrayed them since that’s how things were and they were being realistic rather than showing how women can lead more fulfilling lives, and that marriage can be more than just money and social standing.
Pride is also a large part of the theme and hinders the men during that time to not be with or marry women that make them happy rather than women that make them and their family look better. This was important during the 18th century because “strong family structures were necessary because the family was the basis for all other institutions. The government, church and community all worked through the nuclear family unit”(Gender roles in Colonial America). Which is why it is more important that the wealthy men marry a wealthy woman the keep their family structure strong and wealthy to keep the hierarchy that was important at that time. One example of this is Mr. Bingley because Mr. Charles Bingley is a wealthy man in a very high social standing and is also considered to be an extremely attractive man. It is clear how wealthy Mr. Bingley is when it is said that “Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from his father” (Austen 19) A man like Mr. Bingley wouldn’t marry a low-class woman like Jane because it would put a dent into his reputation which he is socially required to keep high by marring another wealthy woman and raising wealthy children. That is also what Mrs. Bennet when she wants to try to keep Mr. Bingley around her daughters. She is trying to get him to fall in-love with one of her children so that they can marry into wealth to secure the good future that his future wife would have. This works very well because Mr. Bingley falls in love with Jane Bennet, Elizabeth Bennet’s sister, and eventually they find a way to be together and admit to each other that they like each other.
Another example of a man who lets his pride interfere in his happiness is Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bennet’s best friend. Mr. Darcy is a prideful and arrogant man who hides his true feelings for Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Darcy also shows his pride in his nature, in his speech, and his feels very highly about himself. He is so pride full that at first he was very dislike even by Elizabeth Bennet and she even says “I had not thought Mr. Darcy so bad as this—though I have never liked him. I had not though so very ill of him”(Austen 100). Mr. Darcy also has a difficult time with the ideology of societal expectations when he beings to fall in love with Miss Elizabeth and it takes him a lot of self-reflection so that he can realize that the stereotypical woman that he should marry is not what he wants and he goes through a dynamic character development as he falls in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet and chooses to put his pride aside so that he can ask Miss Elizabeth to marry him because he loves her. They also have to communicate and be flexible thinkers to help their genuine love to grow.
Pride and Prejudice is a very complex novel that breaks many gender roles,and Jane Austen uses the book to revolutionize the treatment of women. It also forces the society to begin when it comes to how middle and upper class people interact with each other. The story also relates to Jane Austen’s family. She was a child in a family with 8 children. She almost married a 21 year old heir, but later changed her mind, and neither her nor her sister every actually married. Her family also was not wealthy but more middle class. She related to the characters in Pride and Prejudice in why a middle class woman at that time would be willing to marry a wealthy man, but instead should break the mold and marry for love not business. It is a concept that is very much followed to this day as women marry solely for love for the most part. Some people marry out of wealth for love which is remarkable that it is stories such as Pride and Prejudice that started the change that allows women to follow their heart and their dreams and get jobs. As, women now work in all aspects that help the outside world and not just the home. Women can decide where they want to work and who they want to marry, and many women work in law enforcement, science, as doctors, and in the home. It really has been up to the women themselves. Which is something that Jane Austen was hoping to accomplish when she wrote a book defying the odds of what women were allowed and not subjecting women to the same fate as all the other male authors of that time period. She paved a road for change for women and men.
- Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813.
- “Gender Roles in Colonial America.” Gender and Sexuality in Colonial America, http://public.gettysburg.edu/~tshannon/341/sites/Gender and Sexuality/Gender Roles.htm.