How does Austen portray the theme of manners and etiquette?
Austen portrays the theme of manners and etiquette as an extremely important concept which helps to propel the plot forward, by playing a large role in the establishment of the attitudes of society towards characters in the novel. She also uses this theme to show how people in the novel believe that a person's outward manners mirror their moral character, an aspect of a person which characters in the novel are constantly trying to evaluate, based on their behaviour in public. Austen also portrays the theme of manners in such a way that it helps to create a distinct boundary between the Bennet family and the Bingley family, by emphasising the huge contrast between the two families' social status.
The importance of manners and etiquette to society is used by Austen to show how characters judge other characters based on their individual actions and social decorum. An example of this is when Elizabeth takes it upon herself to visit her sister Jane, who is unwell and residing at Netherfield Park. When she arrives at Netherfield with "weary ankles" and "dirty stockings", having walked three miles through fields to see her sister, the crucial importance of manners and etiquette to society is perfectly stressed by the consequent reactions of Miss Bingley. The fact that Elizabeth ignored the system of propriety laid down by society appalls Miss Bingley, and uses it to further insult Elizabeth's character, where "her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence", showing "a most country-town indifference to decorum". Miss Bingley uses Elizabeth's actions of that single morning to quickly base her whole judgement of Elizabeth's personality on, and Austen uses this to show how characters in the novel value what they believe to be social decorum.
The manners of Mrs Bennet and also Lydia Bennet immediately attract the scrutiny of Miss Bingley, as she notices how...
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