The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet
And Mr. Darcy
Susan Fraiman in her essay “The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet” argues that Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, is disempowered when she marries Fitzwilliam Darcy who succeeds Mr. Bennet as controlling literary figure. Fraiman claims that Elizabeth is a surrogate-son to her father trapped inside her female body during an age when gender roles were rigorously fixed.
Judith Butler in her essay of 1990 called "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory, “states that performing one's gender wrong initiates a set of punishments both obvious and indirect. Through the contribution of Butler's theory, this essay aims to demonstrate that it is not only, as Fraiman claims, Elizabeth Bennet who is punished by society for performing her gender wrong, but also Mr. Darcy. In respect to convention, Mister Darcy performs his gender wrong as well as he goes by a feminine name and is often passive, “unsocial” and “taciturn” as Elizabeth puts it. He admits: “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before” He admits to Elizabeth at the very that he was embarrassed when she asks him why he was "so shy of [her]”.
It must be considered then that Darcy does not want to "humiliate‟ Elizabeth with his “extensive power” of a “paternalistic noble” but is rather humiliated by it himself. after all he has many "feminine" characteristics:
He waits to be approached;
he prefers listening to talking;
he is receptive rather than aggressive;
he is anxious about his reputation and judges people according to their manners; he is the person his friends come to for advice, and
he writes letters instead of personally confronting people.
To perform one's gender right, as Judith Butler asserts in “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” means to perform one's gender in accordance with historical and cultural sanctions that change over time.
Butler's essay deconstructs society's belief that gender is a fixed natural given. She questions if and how we exist before societal ideology's imposition by observing gender in a phenomenological way and finds that gender is always performed, but the performance varies according to time period.
What does not vary, however, is society's punishment of people who don't perform their gender according to the current convention. Elizabeth Bennet has aligned herself with her father and his male, independent perspective. Mr. Bennet bequeaths [to Elizabeth] his ironic distance from the world, the habit of studying and appraising those around him, the role of social critic.
Therefore Lizzie is less a daughter than a surrogate son, who by giving up the mother and giving in to the father, reaps the spoils of maleness. In regards to society, however, Lizzie's male independence is dangerous. She does not behave like a gentlewoman of her time who was expected to draw and do needlework indoors while waiting for a suitor to whisk her off to the altar.
*The haughty Bingley sisters immediately declare her behavior unsuitable: “To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum'' (Austen 25).
*When Mr. Collins proposes to Lizzie, she doesn't employ “the usual practice of elegant females, but declines his offer as a “rational creature speaking the truth from her heart” (Austen 75).
While Lizzie's decision to refuse the buffoonish Mr. Collins is justified, it is nonetheless precarious in her situation. If she and her sister Jane hadn't married Darcy and Bingley respectively, which can be regarded as the exceptions to the rule, they would have lost their parents‟ entailed house to Mr....
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