Gender Representations in Pride and Prejudice

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“Discuss the ways in which gender has been represented in the text”

The traditional English gentleman is typically seen as a strong symbol of masculinity and elegance, it’s hard to not fall for their charm with the English female being the submissive housewife with utter beauty, but never her own opinion. In Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen, this is certainly not the case. First published in 1813, the story is about the romance between the young heroine Elizabeth Bennet, the prejudiced middle class daughter and the proud, wealthy eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy as they both overcome their judgements and fall in love. Though English gentlemen were viewed as the stronger race with a high regard within society and strong social graces and husbands the head of the family with the final decision, the main male characters in the novel are portrayed as the challenges these characteristics. Austen uses the novel’s strong female protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet to challenge to idea of women of that era being weak and passive, whereas the eligible bachelor of the town, Fitzwilliam Darcy, lacks in the social expectations as he is portrayed as juvenile, especially when it comes to love and courtship. Mr Bennet, the father of the strong female heroine, is portrayed as withdrawn and passive compared to the erratic personality of his wife, Mrs Bennet. Through characterisation, Austen intelligently challenges the traditional masculine and feminine roles of the Regency Era.

The novel was first submitted for publication in November 1719 under the alternative title First Impressions between October 1796 and August 1797. During this time, the aftermath of the French Revolution was a time of intense ethical debate about revolutionary ideas and change about politics and sex equality. Austen’s novel does not comment on the events of war in her time, but rather on the imminent change of ethics with regards to gender equality.

Equality between men and women in that era was fairly non-existent as women were deemed the weaker race as a woman was expected to remain passive throughout her life, marrying early and supporting her husband when need be, bearing children and living a rewarding social life. Men, however, being the head of the family and the husbands having superiority within marriage, were deemed fit to defend their country and have high regard within society with strong social graces and a hardworking attitude in the home.

Young women in the Regency period were traditionally seen as property of their fathers, and when married off, they were then deemed the possession of their husband and forever loyal to the men in their lives. The feisty heroine of Elizabeth Bennet challenges this expectation by being maintaining her independence in a time of feminine weakness being told “you speak your opinion very decidedly for a woman of your age.” In her first marriage proposal from the odd Mr Collins, Elizabeth maintains her strength as rather than marrying for wealth, she refuses his proposal. Ignoring the expectations of her family, as well as society, Elizabeth maintains her hope in marrying for love in saying “do you not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart” as she implores Mr Collins to understand her motives in maintaining her independence, as she refuses to apologise for what she wants thus showing her strength and challenging the idea of women being submissive with the society. Similarly, when Elizabeth journeys across the countryside to Netherfield to tend to her ill sister, Jane, as she does so with the bravado and independence not quite readily present within the upper class society. Though others were unimpressed by Elizabeth’s independent behaviour, Darcy was quite impressed by her audacity as he says the “brilliancy which exercise had...
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