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In which ways is Elizabeth different from the rest of the Bennet family? What does the contrast reveal about her character?
Elizabeth is one of the only characters in Pride and Prejudice who changes significantly over the course of the story. Her distinctive quality is her extreme perceptiveness, which she uses to assess others at the beginning of the novel and understand her own flaws at the end. Most of the other Bennets are stuck in their ways - Jane is eternally optimistic, Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are frivolous, Mr. Bennet is sarcastic and cynical, and so on - but Elizabeth regularly reflects on the events in her life. She learns to question herself whereas most of the others act as though they have settled on a certain worldview. Elizabeth is therefore a true individual who adapts to the world around her, and seeks constantly to better understand her desires so that she can find happiness.
Overall, do you believe Austen has a conservative or radical approach to the issue of class? Why or why not?
Ultimately, Pride and Prejudice takes a moderate stance on class differences. Austen never posits an egalitarian ideology. However, she does criticize the society's over-emphasis on class instead of individual moral character. Darcy's journey from extreme class-consciousness to prioritizing manners over money is the best example of Austen's criticism. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is affected upon visiting Pemberley. The grand estate does have an impact on her already changing feelings towards Darcy, which is one example of Austen justifying the appeal of the upper class. Overall, Austen accepts (and even appreciates) the existence of class hierarchy, but also offers a warning about how class-based prejudice can poison society.
Explore Austen's portrayal of the women in the novel. In what ways does she sympathize with their plight, and in what ways is she unsympathetic?
Austen's attitude towards women is quite complicated. Generally, Austen is critical of the gender injustices present in 19th century English society, particularly in the context of marriage. She is able to voice this criticism through characters like Charlotte Lucas (who marries Collins because she needs security) and even Mrs. Bennet (who, though ridiculous, is the only one to speak out against the entailment of Longbourn). Furthermore, Austen's caricatured portrayal of the younger Bennet daughters is evidence of her disdain for frivolous women. Her opinion was perhaps more in line with Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, or even the dour Mary. While Austen seems to accept the limitations of her gender, she criticizes a society that forces women to emphasize their least flattering characteristics.
Elizabeth has a markedly different attitude about marriage than other characters - notably Charlotte and Mrs. Bennet - have. To what extent is she unfair in her assessment of their attitudes, and to what extent might they benefit from employing her perspective?
Charlotte and Mrs. Bennet both believe that marriage is a business transaction in which a woman must be the active party in securing a good match for herself. This pragmatic assessment stands in stark contrast to Elizabeth's more romantic worldview. However, at this period in history, at least in certain higher classes, if a man chose not to marry, he only risked loneliness and regret. Meanwhile, a woman in the same situation could lose her financial security. Therefore, it is understandable why Charlotte and Mrs. Bennet believe that a woman must consider employing manipulation for the sake of her future. Charlotte deliberately draws Mr. Collins's attention in order to secure a proposal. However, Jane does not follow Charlotte's advice and nearly loses Bingley's love in the process. Lydia takes a drastic action that forces her marriage to occur. It is only Elizabeth who operates entirely outside the societal norm, but Austen makes it clear that her situation is quite unique.
Some critics applaud Austen's ability to craft psychologically complex and believable characters, while others believe she mostly creates well-drawn comic stock characters. Which argument do you support?
Though this question asks for an opinion, a strong thesis would be that Austen straddles the line between comic stock characters and psychologically complex ones. Elizabeth Bennet has a magnetic and singular personality, as does Darcy. They are arguably one of the most beloved literary couples of all time. On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine are almost trapped in their exaggerated personality traits, which Austen often uses for comic (and satirical) effect. However, Austen reveals a keen perception of human psychology, even through these supposedly two-dimensional characters. Mr. Collins, for instance, reflects the truth of a class-obsessed society. Mrs. Bennet embodies the desperation of women to find a good marriage. Therefore, Austen does create unique stock characters that emphasize certain aspects of human psychology while also providing comic relief.
Austen's original draft of this novel was titled First Impressions. Explain why this title makes sense, as explore the reasons why Pride and Prejudice is more apt.
First Impressions describes the main romantic conflict - will Elizabeth and Darcy end up together despite their first impressions of one another? However, Pride and Prejudice suggests a much deeper psychological struggle, more fitting to the complexity of Austen's novel. Whereas First Impressions only implies a story of corrected perceptions, Pride and Prejudice describes a story where the characters must investigate themselves, addressing the unconscious impulses that work to prohibit self-awareness. Finally, the final title is all-encompassing, reaching beyond just Elizabeth and Darcy. It offers a comment on the novel's larger themes like class and the role of women.
Darcy is initially attracted to Elizabeth's "fine eyes." Analyze this symbol, and explain what it shows about both Darcy and Elizabeth.
Despite Elizabeth's obvious coldness toward him, Darcy finds himself increasingly attracted to her, particularly her beautiful dark eyes. The darkness of her eyes also represents Elizabeth's main weakness: the pride and prejudice that cloud her perception. Elizabeth prides herself on her ability to judge others and uncover their motives. However, her prejudgment of Darcy makes her blind to his admiration. In the conversation about Darcy at Netherfield, Elizabeth offers that Darcy's defect is "a propensity to hate everybody," while Darcy perceptively replies that hers is "willfully to misunderstand them." Indeed, while Elizabeth judges Darcy for over-valuing his first impression of her, she exhibits the exact same shortcoming. Ultimately, the darkness of her eyes reflects the complexity of Elizabeth's prejudice, but that complexity is very much what draws Darcy towards her in the first place.
In what ways does Austen portray the family and community as responsible for its members?
Though Pride and Prejudice is largely a story about individuality, Austen portrays the family unit as primarily responsible for the intellectual and moral education of children. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's failure to provide a proper education for their daughters leads to Lydia's utter foolishness. Elizabeth and Jane manage to develop virtue and discernment in spite of their parents' negligence, though it is notable that they have other role models like the Gardiners. Darcy shares both his father's aristocratic nature and the man's tendency towards generosity, while Lady Catherine's daughter is too frightened to speak. This attitude extends to the larger community, as well. Lydia's time in Meryton and Brighton bring out her worst impulses. Similarly, the community around Pemberley respects Darcy's generosity and follows his lead in being kind and trustworthy.
Though undoubtedly a comic character, Mr. Collins reflects some rather unattractive qualities of his society. Explain this statement.
Mr. Collins is defined by his rambling speeches of excessive formality and his boorishness disguised as faux-politeness. And yet, Mr. Collins is also a reflection of a society obsessed with class, a monster engendered by this singular pressure. Mr. Collins comes from modest means and likely always dreamed of a respectable position. When he attracted an aristocratic patroness like Lady Catherine, he saw only her rank, which made him blind to her harsh and condescending attitude. He compensates for his insecurity by pretending to act like Lady Catherine and those of her class. In this way, Collins and Lady Catherine are examples of the societal acceptance of class without manners but not the opposite.
Explain why Austen ends her novel with a line about the Gardiners, even though they are minor characters in Pride and Prejudice.
The Gardiners are important because they are a middle-class couple that behaves reasonably and virtuously. Mrs. Gardiner is a great role model for Elizabeth, though she reveals little unique personality of her own. Mr. Gardiner proves to be instrumental in saving Lydia from her scandalous elopement. They both acknowledge the importance of class and education, but place a greater emphasis on personal conduct. The Gardiners also externalize Darcy's inner struggle. When Darcy treats the Gardiners well at Pemberley and then later works with Mr. Gardiner to rescue Lydia, it indicates that he has internalized Elizabeth's view of personality and class. The novel thus ends on the Gardiners because is offers a final illustration that Elizabeth and Darcy have reached a happy medium between class and behavior beyond the barriers of pride and prejudice.