An individual often finds himself in a conflict with the rules of society. Occasionally, rebelling is the path to happiness. However, usually, the real path to happiness is through compromise. This is the case in the early nineteenth century England setting of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. In the novel, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a lively, independent woman, whose family's financial situation and whose strong mindedness suggest that she may never marry. Mr. Darcy, is a rigid and proper man, who falls in love with Elizabeth, despite their differences. By the end of the novel, Elizabeth and Darcy learn to compromise, and, in doing so, become truly happy. In marrying, they not only fulfill themselves as individual, but also affirm the principle values of society. As in many of her novels, this marriage at the end of the novel shows us Jane Austen's ideal view of marriage as a social institution.
The novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen gives us the reader a very good idea of how she views marriage, as well as society. The theme of marriage is set in the very opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice; "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (Austen, 1) As Norman Sherry points out, this is Austen's way of implying that 'a single man in possession of a good fortune' is automatically destined to be the object of desire for all unmarried women. The statement opens the subject of the romantic novel; courtship and marriage. The sentence also introduces the issue of what the reasons for marrying are. She implies here that many young women marry for money. The question the reader must ask himself is, does Jane Austen think this is moral? Sherry shows us that Austen was not particularly romantic. She reveals these sentiments through Charlotte remarks concerning her marriage to Mr. Collins.
"I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collin's character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state." (Austen, 95)
Elizabeth, as Sherry points out, is not particularly romantic either, however unlike Charlotte, Elizabeth has a certain picture of an ideal marriage in her mind, and therefore would never marry for reasons other than love. We assume that since Elizabeth is the main character, this is how Jane Austen sees marriage. Since Elizabeth would not marry without love, we can also assume that Jane Austen sees what Charlotte does as immoral. Elizabeth also feels that marriages formed by passion alone are just as bad as marriages formed without love. Elizabeth reflects on her sister Lydia's marriage; "But how little permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger then their virtue, she could easily conjecture" (Austen, 232) We again see reasons besides love as the reason for marriage. Jane Austen is not very optimistic about marriage, in fact there are almost no happy marriages in the novel at all. Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet, Lydia and Wickham, and Charlotte and Mr. Collins are examples of the ill-matched and unsuccessful marriages in Pride and Prejudice.
The characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are not all miserable by the end of the novel. Happy marriages in Austen's novels do occur. Sherry illustrates this point. The right people eventually come together, for example, Elizabeth and Darcy, the hero and heroine. The development of the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is the most important proof of the whole overall theme of compromise. This relationship took work, it did not just occur. Elizabeth has to learn to control her prejudices. She forms her opinions very quickly and does not change them easily. Darcy has to learn...