Why Elizabeth Bennet’s thinking is contradictory to the nineteenth-century culture
During the Victorian Britain era, the roles of men and women became more sharply defined than at any time in history. The lack of equality, the insensible stereotypes of women and the importance of marriage in the lives of Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters, may be hard for modern readers to understand. The stereotypes clarified that women in the nineteenth century were: frail, the weaker sex, and hypersensitive creatures whose only worth in life is their marriage prospects. The protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, a beloved character from the well-known novel: Pride and Prejudice from Jane Austen, feels estranged with this culture. Her way of thinking is not only completely contradictory to the traditional culture of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth feels alienated from her community which creates conflict with the culture she lives in.
This essay will demonstrate and portray the conflict between Elizabeth and her culture with several quotations from the novel Pride and Prejudice. The thesis of this essay will be that Elizabeth Bennet feels alienated from the culture she lives in, which makes her thinking contradictory to the nineteenth-century culture.
Elizabeth Bennet is an intelligent, funny and complex character who brings into sharp focus on women’s individual values. She believes that women are far more than just marriage, something that was never even considered by people in the nineteenth century. Women and men were not equal in this time of history. The ideal woman was to be 'the angel in the house' and had to support her husband.A culture, Elizabeth is very against. She wants to break through that stereotype to create a new, bolder idea of what it means to be a woman. In her opinion is the individuality of a woman not breaking away from femininity, competing with men or becoming masculine. It is about recognizing the true and meaningful beauty, values and strengths within oneself. Women have minds, have souls as well as just hearts, are smart and have talent for the things they truly desire. Elizabeth believes that love is not only all a woman is fit for, there is so much more capability a woman possessed that is just neglected by the society. She strives after a different opinion on what it means to be a woman. Her community, on the other hand, holds an opposite opinion which makes her feel alienated from the culture she lives in.
The men in the novel also have a strict idea of what a perfect woman should look like. They seek for a woman who must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing and the modern languages to deserve the word. Women should, in a man’s opinion, be truly ‘accomplished’ to be worthy of his time. Elizabeth goes very much against these statements. She thinks of woman so much more that what a man seeks and asks for. A woman cannot be all the desires of a man together. The novel portrays literary elements of how the society defines a woman and the capability she must contain to be ‘good enough’ to wed with. In the beginning of the novel, Elizabeth speaks out about this by telling mister Darcy that his high expectations of women are ludicrous, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any” (39). Elizabeth is angry at what a man only sees as an ‘accomplished’ woman, when every woman is perfect just the way she is. A man is asking for so much, when a woman does not even have a voice at all. Elizabeth has, in contrast to her culture, a different opinion on the individual values of a woman. The novel portrays, therefore, a conflict between the protagonist and her society. She cannot agree with the standard rules of her culture. These rules conclude that women do not have individual values nor are more than only marriage. Something Elizabeth, deeply disagrees with. A conflict is therefore well portrayed.
Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective on marriage is the very opposite to the perspective of any other in the nineteenth century. Women had, in this time of history, not much choice when it came to their future. Their life was mostly shaped by their relatives which tried to find her a husband who would support them. Once married, a woman lost all control over both possessions and fate. She would become her husband’s property. Elizabeth has a strong opinion when it comes to marriage, especially when a woman marries a man she does not love. At a time when marrying for love hardly ever happened, Elizabeth is determined to marry a man she respects and loves, or not marry at all, “I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony. So, I shall end an old maid, and teach your ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill” (17). She understands the true purpose of marriage: becoming one with a person, you feel a spiritual and emotional union with. She believes that friendship, affection and respect are major elements for a strong and healthy marriage. Elizabeth goes against the expectations that the century holds, in connection to women and marriage. She thinks differently which creates a conflict between her and the culture she lives in.
Elizabeth does not only speak out about her opinion on marriage in her century; she actively defies them. Even though she receives a marriage proposal from two rich men, Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy, she turns them down. She rejects them instead of committing to a lavish life aligned with a loveless marriage. This reasoned by the fact that she does not love them at all, which would make the marriage a one way ticket to unhappiness. She does not set her values based on the rules of society. She responds to the fact that men just marry a woman because of her appearance, beauty and bright smile. The personality and character of a woman is completely neglected. The society’s assumptions, morality and values, stand completely opposite to Elizabeth’s. When the culture contemplates that women have no choice into marrying a man, Elizabeth is determined that women only should marry for love. This makes Elizabeth, ones again, alienated from the culture she lives in. This caused by her strong and different opinion on marriage. Her opinion is contradictory to the nineteenthcentury culture.
Elizabeth Bennet is also not afraid to correct a man by using her voice or stand up for her rights. Something that the nineteenth century did not want from a woman. While many women of the time would hold their tongue whenever being disrespected, Elizabeth demands respect from the men in her life. As high as a man’s status can be, she judges them based on their true character. Her sharp tongue, which often shocks those who believe that ladies cannot be allowed such freedom, corrects anyone that she does not agree with, “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me” (338). Elizabeth thinks that she does not have to take anyone else’s feelings into account when making a decision. That is her occupation and hers only. She is able to stand up for her rights and speaks her mind, even when not being told. Elizabeth believes that nothing from the outside can dictate to a woman how to feel, act or think.
The culture, in which Elizabeth lives, believes that women should be silenced. They should listen to males and obey the superior sex. It is very reasonable that Elizabeth’s way of thinking does not match the thoughts of most people in her culture at all. It is because of the lack of indifference that makes Elizabeth feel estranged from her culture. She loves to stand up for her own rights and use her voice whenever she feels like it, something that her culture and the society did not approve.
Elizabeth Bennet has stood against the rules of her culture throughout her whole life. The novel portrays several conflicts between the protagonist and the anti-feminist beliefs of the society she lives in. The way she thinks of the individual value of women, own decided marriages and standing up for women’s rights, differs so much from the beliefs of her society. It is because of these indifferences that Elizabeth Bennet feels alienated from the culture she lives in. She disagrees with how the society defines, treat and represent women and is not afraid to put her disagreement. The way she reasons makes her thinking contradictory to the nineteenth-century culture. Her independence is illustrated in her refusal to bend to the will of a male-dominated society. She wants to break through the nineteenth century stereotypes, expectations and the lack of value of women. The beliefs that she has the capacity to think and speak for herself, only reinforces this breakthrough. Her personality mirrors a modern woman of today. So why would such an old-fashioned stereotyped culture, be inspiring to such a modern woman?