Elizabeth Bennet’s Depiction in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
What would the world be like if everyone was normal and everyone followed the rules? There would be no fun and no one would ever be happy. Jane Austen demonstrates in Pride and Prejudice through Elizabeth and Darcy that in man’s pursuit of the joys in life, those who stick too strictly or not at all to the existing social norms face the danger of never finding their place in life nor ever finding personal happiness.
Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine in the novel, is a person worthy of our imitation. She is a model for all women because she is different from all the other characters, and because she does not go by the standards set forth by society. She is self-reliant and independent. Darcy observes Elizabeth as a woman who is sick of women being women.
Elizabeth rejects her cousin, Mr. Collin’s proposal because she does not think that marriage is the only honorable provision for a well-educated woman. Nor does she believe in marriage of convenience. When Mr. Collins says arrogantly to Elizabeth that, “My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh” (82), are reasons that she should accept his offer because “in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you”(83), she politely refused him. “I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible”(83). Unlike Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth would never go against her principles and her integrity and throw away her talents by marrying Mr. Collins.
In one sense, she is a non-conformist because she looks to nature rather than society or traditional authority for the basis of her judgments. Elizabeth looks to nature because she puts her trust in her own perceptions and impressions. On the other hand, she is not ready to rebel against society. She does not totally disregard social propriety. She has good manners; her walking alone to Netherfield Park-is justified by her genuine concern for her sister who is ill. She has good manners. Elizabeth is not like her mother who is offensive and unlady-like. When Lady Catherine criticizes Elizabeth over her piano playing she listens, “with all the forbearance of civility”(132). Also, when Darcy proposed to her the first time, she was able to refuse him in a polite way. Elizabeth demonstrates that she has great restraint even under a lot of pressure.
Elizabeth realizes that she must take responsibility for her own education because she can not look to either of her parents for advice, and she must ultimately depend on her own experiences, instincts, and judgments. Her self-reliant attitude causes her to think of herself as independent, but her views are distorted because she also regards herself as above normal. Elizabeth is unconscious that she suffers from pride. She learns from her father’s example to take delight in the follies and vanities of others; she sees everyone’s mistakes but her own. She does not realize the dangers of her error.
The flaws in her character are revealed by her prejudices. Elizabeth’s initial prejudices against Darcy are rooted in the pride of her own quick perception, and her distorted perception of reality. Elizabeth wants to believe that Darcy is bad, so she naturally gives Wickham the benefit of the doubt when he told her about Darcy’s breach of agreement without hearing Darcy’s side of the story. She shows this when she says, “How abominable! If from no better motive that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest. For dishonesty I must call it”(61)!
Elizabeth prides herself in her individualism and trusts her perceptions, never recognizing that her judgments are blind. Elizabeth thinks badly of Darcy because of his ungentlemanly behavior, but she thinks well of Mr. Wickham because he s charming and witty. Her prejudice makes her incapable of judging the good in Darcy and the bad in Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth sees Darcy’s awkward and cold demeanor, but polite manners as ungracious, selfish and rude. She tells Darcy that, “Your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of…your selfish disdain of the feeling of others…”(97). Mr. Wickham has bad manners, but she convinces herself that he is a good man. Elizabeth justifies Wickham s violation of propriety when he revealed confidential information to a stranger. “A man in distressed circumstances has not time for all those elegant decorums which other people may observe.”(67)
On the surface, Elizabeth is just ordinary. She is “attractive but not beautiful; she is endowed with certain graces and talents, but not unusually gifted, she is appealing without being exquisite”(Dwyer 67). In the end, she wins everything-the prince, the castle, and the happiness. Elizabeth will find happiness because she learns to recognize her faults, but characters like Lady Catherine and Ms. Bingley will never find happiness because they do not learn from experience. Elizabeth becomes more of a lady than Lady Catherine. Lady Catherine brought herself down by having so much arrogance. Her ego not only failed to keep Elizabeth from marrying Darcy, but led Darcy to propose a second time.
On the other hand, Ms. Bingley is so caught up in a fantasy world that she can t see what is really important in life. She will also never find enduring happiness.
Elizabeth’s independence is less than she first imagines, for when Darcy unexpectedly appears in Pemberley, she is struck with “embarrassment impossible to overcome”(186), and her “cheeks…were overspread with the deepest blush”(186). Elizabeth learns to judge others more accurately and not be blinded by first impressions. Elizabeth’s confession that she was guilty of prejudices based on her own judgment shows that she is superior to the other characters, such as Lady Catherine, Ms. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Wickham, but more than anything that she is human. Elizabeth gains knowledge through life s events.
Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love has been my folly pleased with the preference of one [Wickham], and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance and driven reason away where either was concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.-Elizabeth Bennet (156)
If we don’t know ourselves, we won’t understand reality, which causes us to misjudge. Elizabeth realizes that people cannot be judged based on appearance, you have to know a person on the inside to before you can judge them. By the end of the novel, Elizabeth becomes a lady that all women can look up to. Without the help of her family, having great wealth or wisdom to aid her, Elizabeth finds happiness from realizing her own mistakes.
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