Jane Austen's View on the Social Class and How It Affects Elizabeth and Darcy's Relationship in Pride and Prejudice.
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Jane Austen's View on the Social Class and How It Affects Elizabeth and Darcy's Relationship in Pride and Prejudice Although Pride and Prejudice does not wholly concern with the difference of social classes in the late 18th Century Britain, the idea of social rank does play a big role in the plot of the novel. By the 18th Century Britain has already been a powerful trading nation. There were 2 significant social classes: the upper and the middle classes. The upper class consisted of aristocrats and gentry landowners, who considered themselves to be in a higher position than other people in the society according to their birthrights and properties. On the other hand, the middle class comprised of tradesmen and ordinary people who made their fortune through business and trade. Though members of these two classes did socialise, there was social separation, by which the upper class members are likely to look down on the middle class. In Pride and Prejudice, the audiences are first introduced to members of the middle class, the Bennets, consisting of seven members: the witty Mr. Bennet, the ridiculous and ambitious Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Later the author mentions the Lucas family, of which the man, Sir William Lucas, is an example of a businessman who makes his money through trade. Then appear Mr. Collins, the Bennets' relative, who is a priest in Lady Catherine de Bourgh's church, and finally the Gardiners, family of Mrs. Bennet's brother.
So far Mr. Darcy has not behaved himself as a proper gentleman. He has shown nothing to prove that he belongs in the aristocracy. He has been treating Elizabeth without respect. As a result, there is no doubt that she would decline him. She angrily replies, "You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner." (Volume2, Chapter11, Page 159) In the period of this novel or even at the present time, to be married with someone does not mean that you only marry that person, but you also marry his or her family and society. In this case, both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy know that most of the members of the Bennets are not the group of people to be proud of. Mr. Darcy has a point when he writes in the letter to Elizabeth that, "The situation of your mother's family, through objectionable, was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father." (Volume2, Chapter12, Page 163) In spite of "the defects of [her] nearest relations" (Volume2, Chapter12, Page 163), as referred to by Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth does have agreeable relatives, which are the Gardiners.
In addition, the reason why Mr. Darcy gets along with the Gardiners so well is probably because they are sensible and agreeable people, unlike many members of the Bennets. In his self-revelation, Mr. Darcy confesses that he has been "allowed, encourage, almost taught to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond [his] family circle, to think meanly of the rest of the world,..." (Volume3, Chapter14, Page 297) However, he learns through his acquaintance with Elizabeth, a lady of inferior connection, and her virtue that he was wrong. He said to her, "You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled." (Volume3, Chapter14, Page 297) It is clear that the true virtue can overcome the division of classes. In my opinion, Jane Austen does not defy the notion of class division. She does not challenge the society to change its viewpoint on social position. She only encourages the audiences to look deeper into an individual and seek for their innate virtue rather than only look at his or her social status. For her definition of the upper class is a group of people who are both well-bred and well-mannered. The marriage between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is the integration of the traditional social values placed on status and the natural goodness of the individuals. For Elizabeth, her marriage with Mr. Darcy introduces her to the upper class not only owing to Mr. Darcy wealth and position, and her relationship with him; but because she deserves to belong in the aristocracy due to her own virtue and manner.
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