During the 19th century, society was a lot different in both governmental and economic. In Pride and Prejudice, the author, Jane Austen, uses irony and satire to criticize aspects of the society. Jane Austen uses her satire to marvelously bring out the ridiculous characters. These characters symbolize her criticism on the society. Through her use of characters, she reveals her concerns towards the law, government, and each one’s own social value in the society.
Social status is an important part of the 19th century English society and the Bennet family is no different from any other family in their attempt to improve their social status or to give the impression that they have a high social status. Mrs. Bennet’s plan to marry her daughters off is a mean to gain social status. The author criticizes this hierarchical structure that divided social groups into classes. The opening of the novel opens up with the theme: It is universally acknowledged that any single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (1)
Social class is obviously significant in the novel as both the theme and Austen’s criticism on the society. Through Elizabeth and Darcy, the author successfully criticizes the hierarchical structure that causes troubles between Elizabeth and Darcy throughout the novel. “He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacle…” (161). Darcy’s dilemma between his social status and his love for Elizabeth causes his rejection when he first seeks for her hand in marriage.
Because of his social status, Darcy hides his love for Elizabeth. In the beginning of the novel, the personality of Darcy gives the reader a sense of dislike. Thus, the author successfully shows the internal conflict that he faces. On the other hand, Elizabeth troubles finding a husband who shares the same affection but more importantly benefit her social status. She refuses enter a marriage that is bonded by no love: She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when called into action, she would have sacrificed very better feeling to worldly advantage… And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen. (110) These conflicts that the characters face show the troubles that social status gives. Moreover, Austen criticizes on the fact that women choosing their other half is because of either social status or wealth but far from loving one another. Furthermore, this hierarchical structure changes the way people view each other.
Jane Austen shows this by the ways the characters behave and their personality towards each other. For example, Miss Bingley treats Elizabeth differently because of her social status. Her treatment towards Elizabeth shows her jealousy and snobbery personality: She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. (32) Miss Bingley feels threatened by Elizabeth and knows that she cannot compete with her. Thus, she uses her class and social status to be above Elizabeth.
Through Miss Bingley’s actions and characteristics, Austen shows how the upper class views the lower class. Another example would be Lady Catherine, who is a noble woman. She is ignorant and like Miss Bingley, she dislikes Elizabeth because of her social status. Moreover, she tries to stop the marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth: I was told that not only your sister was on the pint of being most advantageously married, but that you…would in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy.
Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible… (297) She criticizes Elizabeth’s family and ignores others. By viewing Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley, their personality shows Austen’s criticism on the wealthy and high class. Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy causes her to treat Darcy differently than others. She dislikes Mr. Darcy when she first met him but on the other hand likes Mr. Wickham. Her prejudice towards the upper class shows the author’s real intentions in implying her criticism.
The law is another criticism where Austen uses the Bennet family to portray it to the reader. The entailment of property causes conflicts between the society. She shows the reader through Mr. Bennet. In the beginning of the novel, the author tells the reader of Mr. Bennet’s property: Consist[ting] almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughter, was entailed in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother’s fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supple the deficiency of his. 25) Mr. Collins serves as her criticism of the law which forces Mr. Bennet to leave his property into the hands of such a ridiculous man instead of his own daughters. Austen first shows the personality of Mr. Collins in order to create the greatest satire of the story: His veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility. (61)
M. Collins reveals himself as someone so full of self-importance and exaggerated politeness that even the reader is disgusted by his personality. In addition, Austen can successfully show her criticism towards the law. Moreover, implies her criticism on the value of a person’s social status. Mr. Collins believes so strongly in the value upon a person’s class that he is so full of “self-importance” because he has Lady Catherine, a noble woman, as his patroness. The character’s inheritance is another implied criticism of the author’s views of the society. Mr. Darcy’s inheritance of his estate and wealth is an example. By using the upper class individuals, Austen portrays the conflicts that are brought about by the entailments. Secondly, Austen criticizes the education system of the society. She uses characters in the novel to criticize the education system. The character’s knowledge and education can be easily seen through. For instance, Elizabeth is intelligent and witty yet Lydia and Mary is the exact opposite. Lydia’s elopement with Wickham shows her lack of education because a well educated individual will never consider elopement as a solution towards marriage:
An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one his officer… with Wickham! Moreover, she does not consider the shame she brings to the family with her scandal and decides to elope with a handsome, young, man. Hence this elopement, it shows Austen’s views of a well educated individual and her criticism of the lack of education of people during the 19th century. In the next place, Jane Austen criticizes on the rights women have during the 19th century.
In the novel, Austen gives the read a stereotype of what women should be. Dancing, singing, and playing the pianoforte are the women’s most basic knowledge: ‘A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, all 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. ’ (35) This view of how women should be like shows the values and rights women have during the 19th century.
In order for them to be successfully approved by others they have to be knowledgeable. Moreover, through this stereotype, Austen shows how women are treated. Dancing, singing, and playing the pianoforte are all entertainments for others. In addition, the women are viewed as objects where their purpose in life is to entertain others. Furthermore, Austen implies this when Miss Bingley praises Darcy’s sister during Elizabeth’s stay with the Bingleys: ‘How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much.
Such a countenance, such manners! and so extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite. ’ (34) Her constant praise shows her prejudice towards the lower class. Thus, she dislikes Elizabeth and views her as an obstacle between her and Darcy. By portraying some women in the novel as weak creatures that are vain or obsessed with love, Austen strives to improve the condition of women. Ultimately, she wants to help women break free of the shallow, passive stereotype that society expected of them.
In addition, the women who suffered under the shallowness of the upper class because of their social status are another criticism of the author. Pride and Prejudice is aimed as a satire against the attitudes of women. Therefore, by making fun of characters for the betterment of the society, Pride and Prejudice proves that it is a true satire. Women cannot be economically independent, thus, they try to find a wealthy husband. An example would be Charlotte Lucas as she accepts Mr. Collins’ proposal. Mr. Collins is an utterly silly individual who “was not a sensible man… A] mixture of pride and obsequiousness…” (69)He is also extremely conceited as he thinks himself superior to others because of his good standing with Lady Catherine. Charlotte’s only reason in marrying Mr. Collins is to gain financial stability and comfort as Mr. Collins is prosperous under his wealthy patroness. Moreover, she perfectly well knows the unhappiness that might come as a result of the marriage: Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins was to be sure neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome… (120) Even so, Charlotte disregards happiness, putting it below financial gain.
Through the exaggeration of Mr. Collins’ personality, Austen shows her disapproval towards the rights the women have during the 19th century. Pride and Prejudice portrays the life of the middle class and the upper class family in England during the early nineteenth century. The law, social values, and women rights are all criticisms that Jane Austen portrays by the use of the characters in the novel. Through Pride and Prejudice, Austen shares her criticism on the society and in hope of making a change in the society.