Elizabeth Loves Power, Not Populism

July 16, 2022 by Essay Writer

The community featured in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has entrenched societal systems known as “propriety”. This “propriety” is a cultural code of conduct that dictates the lifestyles of the cultural citizens and defines success for the community. On many occasions, the protagonist Elizabeth Bennett criticizes or doubts this system of propriety. She feels it judges without worthy evidence and denies citizens the right to fulfill their identities and desires. However, Elizabeth uses the same methods to assign others a social value lower than her own. The inconsistency in Elizabeth’s attitude towards judgment suggests that she believes social inequalities exist between people, but just refuses to acknowledge those without her at the top. One person who Elizabeth judges as unworthy of equal respect is Mr. Collins. Elizabeth’s initial judgment of Mr. Collins is that he is not worth spending her time on. Elizabeth resists speaking with Mr. Collins in the first place, and consents to the conversation only to “get it over as soon and as quietly as possible” (91). Her feelings “[a]re divided between distress and diversion,” and his mere presence “ma[kes] Elizabeth…near laughing,” indicating she does not respect his thoughts (91 – 92). Because she disagrees with his perspective, she disagrees with his existence. In refuting upper class expectations of conventional marriage, Elizabeth simultaneously refutes Mr. Collins’ right to agree with those conventions. She judges him as having misaligned priorities, and is not interested in genuinely listening to him or considering that there is validity to his perspective.Elizabeth extends these judgments of conformity to her friend Charlotte, who decides to marry Mr. Collins. While Elizabeth refuses to marry Mr. Collins even though it would have been financially beneficial for her and her family, her best friend has different values. Charlotte Lucas prioritizes her economic security and social reputation over the satisfaction of her lust or her ideal of romantic love and agrees to Mr. Collins’ proposal. While Elizabeth feels emotional satisfaction will come only from love, Charlotte feels she will be emotionally satisfied by the assurance of a stable position. Elizabeth cannot imagine that there is validity to Charlotte’s choice. Indeed, she has difficulty imagining that the choice actually happens: “she could not have supposed it possible that when called into action she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage,” (110). The use of “better” prominently indicates the Elizabeth is judging Charlotte; she believes Charlotte’s feelings to be less worthy of respect and acceptance than her own. Furthermore, Elizabeth’s judgment of Charlotte fittingly represents her approach to her entire community. In Elizabeth’s mind, everyone should follow their “feelings” – which she seems to think are abstract emotions independent of external conditions, like love but not like security – and those who do not are lacking in character. However, Elizabeth’s community tends to function as if everyone should follow the “rules” – which have everything to do with external conditions like security and little to do with abstract emotions like love – and as if those who do not are lacking in character. By marrying Mr. Collins, Charlotte decides to participate in this cultural ideology and the corresponding systems. Thus, when Elizabeth says that “it [is] impossible for [Charlotte] to be tolerably happy in the lot she ha[s] chosen,” she is furthermore suggesting that it is impossible for someone to be “tolerably happy” in a society that mandates such choices (110). The judgment that offers the most insight into Elizabeth’s conflict is her hierarchical placement of her servants. This relationship shows that Elizabeth’s feelings about a general inequality change depending on whether a specific instance of that inequality increases or decreases her power. That Elizabeth’s family has servants, and that, moreover, Elizabeth raises no objection to this demonstrates that Elizabeth’s concerns over the restrictions of social class are very self – centered. Elizabeth seems to dislike Lady Catherine de Bourg, as is demonstrated by her anxiousness to depart from Rosings and her contempt towards the Lady when she pries into Mr. Darcy’s feelings towards Elizabeth. She takes issue with Lady Catherine’s “condescension” towards Elizabeth and the Bennett family, as well as the arrogance Lady Catherine displays in dictating the terms of Elizabeth’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Mr. Darcy (184). When Lady Catherine arrives unannounced to the Bennett residence, “more than usually insolent and disagreeable”, she repeatedly emphasizes the elevation of her social class in comparison to Elizabeth’s by saying “[Elizabeth] ought to know that [Lady Catherine is] not to be trifled with” and threatening that Elizabeth “will be a disgrace; [her] name will never be mentioned by any of [the upper class]” if she does not comply with Lady Catherine’s wishes (303, 305). While many people, including much of Elizabeth’s family, would submit to these assaults and passively comply to the Lady, Elizabeth “colour[s] with astonishment and disdain” and responds with stinging frankness, reflecting her invalidation of upper class superiority and dissent of the cultural norms (303). She feels she has individual rights, and that other individuals do not have the right to encroach on these rights. In other words, she has the right to “not choose to answer” Lady Catherine’s questions and to kick Lady Catherine off the Bennett property, but Lady Catherine’s personal choices are not entitled to “have [an] effect on [her]” (304, 305). However, simultaneous to all this rebellion and dissent, Elizabeth acts like Catherine de Bourgh in relationship to the Bennetts’ servants. Lady Catherine demands Elizabeth complies with her desires; the Bennetts demand the same from their servants. Indeed, compliance is the function of a domestic worker; their job is to attend to the necessities and personal wants of their master. Just like Lady Catherine, Elizabeth’s family exhibits condescension and arrogance by subjugating domestic employees, and by valuing them not as human beings but as material possessions that indicate social success. Thus, Elizabeth is, in no uncertain terms, a hypocrite. She wishes her family was treated with respect despite their reputation. She finds the commonly accepted cultural norms to be unjust and thinks it unfair that she cannot achieve her desires as a result of those norms. She believes in individual rights and individual values. However, she does not respect people with different perspectives or priorities. She refuses to expand her definition of happiness or include other factors or emotions. She exploits an economically disadvantaged class in order to increase her own power. In short, she wants the best for herself. She will combat anything that oppresses her, and conquer anything that will reward her, all under the false umbrella of system – wide ideals.

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