Female Stereotypes and Possession
Pride and Prejudice is a Novel written by Jane Austen published in 1813. According to Jane, pride and prejudice are social constructs of the society which are interwoven and manifest in various ways. The most ancient forms of pride and prejudice are associated with gender discrimination promoted by class distinction and social distinction as the root causes and effects. The setting of the novel is in Britain in the 19th century as indicated by Goode.
Using her main characters, Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Austen gives a high profile gender based stereotype that works against women as it is reinforced by class and status distinction. At about the time the novel was written, people valued wealth inherited from their parents and close relatives. The novel then presents the struggles of Jane Bennet as against a society predominated by male pride of wealth and status as she wants her sisters to be married to men who are relatively rich than they are. Her motive is to secure their provision for future needs. It is in the interest of Elizabeth to be married to Mr. Darcy, Pride and prejudice not withstanding. Despite the fact that her wishes are faced with constant undesirable responses from Mr. Darcy and his friends, the manner in which she presents her humblest opinions leaves a lot to be desired in this society at the time. This forms part of our interests; to determine if pride and prejudice actually reinforces the sexist stereotype against women. In the event that Charlotte and Elizabeth admit that men with wealth and handsome nature like Darcy deserve to be proud, then a long standing belief that pride and prejudice is a stereotype tool just like other means used by people in the society to discriminate against certain others who are relatively disadvantage either materially or socially is exposed as noted by Austen.
In order for Elizabeth and Darcy to marry, Austen takes us through a series of transformations that they both undergo before finally accept each other. Even when they are married, they are forced to relocate from to Pemberly in Hertfordshire according to Morrison. The amount of compromise and trade-off that the two protagonists make is a clear indication of the mental stereotype gap that the society has to bridge before coming into terms with the effects of pride and prejudice at individual levels. In the first instance, Elizabeth rejects Darcy because she considers Him not that handsome. On her part, Elizabeth is beautiful “but” she comes from a humble back ground, a situation which does not allow her to be seen as worthy in the sight of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth even jeers when she over hears that Darcy wants to dance with her out of pity. On other hand, Mr. Darcy prejudices against Elizabeth because she comes from a poor background.
The issue of pride and prejudice then takes on a centre stage when Elizabeth admits to Darcy that she loved her because it was not her own will but because of vanity; his possessions. While both men and women prejudiced against each other, the degree of skewed pride that it tends to look down more upon women than men means makes sexists stereotypes to believe that it reinforces the behavior. The rare confrontation staged by the two protagonist which exposed deep frustrations each of them harbor in their personal lives, soon after their marriage is an indications that female stereotypes are the major victims of prejudice according to Morrison.
Similarly, when Collins proposed to Elizabeth, She silently rejected him. Collins felt that his pride was hurt because from a lady such as Elizabeth she expected only a “Yes” as he was blinded by the female stereotype of his time. In another instance, Elizabeth showed her interest for Mr. Wickham. Even though his social status was a little lower than hers, the way he defamed Darcy for her made her hate Darcy for a while. Elizabeth was happy with Wickham as he did not prejudice her like Darcy did. While Charlotte Lucas accepts to marry Mr. Collins because she is too impatient to secure material wealth and attain a social status, Elizabeth continues to stand her ground. Her struggle remains to find “true love”. Her mother is seriously annoyed by her move because as for her, she should accept whatever she has found. In her view, Elizabeth’s mother saw that this “perfect match” would help the family as Elizabeth is at the position to inherit Mr. Benet’s wealth when he dies. Elizabeth’s immediate dismissal to Mr. Collins is expressed in her response “You could not make-me-happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so.”
Austin notes that, Elizabeth’s pride does not allow her to marry Collins even without being subject of prejudice. It is only to her chagrin that she rejects Mr. Collins.because Collins proposal is presented as a favor just like Darcy. The real change that Elizabeth undergoes in Pemberly is facilitated by the servant who praises Darcy’s character and temper. As this unfolds, Elizabeth begins to love Darcy for what he really is rather than because of vanity. Elizabeth remarks that “I do not know who is good enough for him”. To mean that she is the best for her at the time, as noted by Austen.
Their dispute is finally resolved and as soon as they quit vanities and prejudices against each other. The relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy as they go through different changes in the novel is a major lesson especially when they abandon material wealth and prejudice. In the end the author’s argument leads to the view that pride and prejudice erodes and works against female stereotypes- women in general regardless of their social pre-dispositions rank or even class. The lessons drawn from the true love that results from transformation of Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage provides a way out of the stereotype.
Austen J. Pride and Prejudice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 1995.
Goode R, editor. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. New York: Barron’s Educational Series; 1984.
Morrison R, editor. Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice [a source book]. New York: Routledge; 2005.