12 December 2011
A Progressive Work in a Conservative Time
Pride and Prejudice, a Jane Austen novel, is one of the most classical pieces of literature in history. It has been evaluated and critiqued a countless number of times, and has been adapted into several films. It can be argued that there is a lot to be retained by readers from this literary work, an important message that can be passed down from generation to generation. During Jane Austen’s time, in the early 1800’s, women were around to be married off, bear children, and cater to their man. Men were meant to work and instruct their women, and the more money you had, the more respected you were. A woman’s goal in life was to marry higher than her class, and social status was everything. History often has a way of repeating itself, whether that history is bad or good, and Austen was not oblivious to this fact. She created a novel to portray the ways of her time, and to appropriately criticize her era where criticism was due. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice effectively opposes the conservative views of her time through her diction and plot throughout the novel in order to inform readers of the idiocy of acting in a non-progressive manner. The point of view in Pride and Prejudice is free indirect discourse; the story is told through Elizabeth, but not in first person. As a result, the events in the novel lack much drama or emotion. According to María Rosa Menocal on JSTOR, “The atmosphere is intellectual and cold, and there is not much detail or warmth throughout the novel.” The darkness and bland mood that results from Austen’s use of free indirect discourse can be a representation of Austen’s negative opinion towards what is going on in the novel. Austen obviously disagrees with the conservative values of her era, and finds it repulsive to look for marriage or any kind of fulfillment based on money or social class. The actions and events in the novel derive from the opinions, ideas, and attitudes of the characters and their society, which essentially advances the plot of the novel. The emotions in the novel are open for interpretation by the audience, since they are not expressed to readers directly. Austen’s brilliance is revealed in her novel, as she is able to relay such a complex message to her audience while still using such simplistic style. The way Austen starts her novel is almost enough to prove that Pride and Prejudice is in fact a progressive novel. The novel starts out, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (3). According to The Literature Network website, “In this statement, Austen has cleverly done three things: she has declared that the main subject of the novel will be courtship and marriage, she has established the humorous tone of the novel by taking a simple subject to elaborate and to speak intelligently of, and she has prepared the reader for a chase in the novel of either a husband in search of a wife, or a women in pursuit of a husband.” Austen’s use of sarcasm and satire in this opening statement already enables readers to know that she is taking an opposing stance on conservatism and the way that things are “supposed to be.” The first line sets the mood and easily defines the author’s purpose for the rest of the novel. Austen is against the emphasis on man in his social environment rather than in his individual conditions, and this is clear to readers from the beginning just by reading the very first sentence.
Although the vast majority of the characters in the novel have a conservative view on life, Austen’s indirect criticism of these characters actually proves that she does not agree with them, therefore making her literary work progressive. Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet can arguably be considered one of the most conservative characters in the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Mrs. Bennet excitedly reports...