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Portrayal of Intricate Characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

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“The main interest of the novel is in its portrayal of intricate characters”
Explore the methods which writers use to create complex characters.
One of the main interests of Pride and Prejudice is its portrayal of intricate characters. Austen employs various narrative techniques to create complex characters such as the use of dialogue, psychological realism, free indirect discourse, symbolism and many others. This also applies to the Yellow Wallpaper, where we are able to gain access to the narrator’s thoughts through her diary.
We are able to appreciate the complexity of Elizabeth’s character through a mixture of free indirect discourse and the show-not-tell technique. Free indirect discourse allows the reader to gain access to Elizabeth’s thoughts and share her thought process. However, the readers are able to see an unbiased view of what is happening in the novel through the show-not-tell technique allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions of the happenings in the novel and draw up Elizabeth’s character from her thoughts or reaction to them. This can be seen through Elizabeth’s reaction towards Darcy’s letter. We are able to read the letter ourselves as opposed to a summarized version of it though Elizabeth’s point of view. However, we are able to gain access to Elizabeth’s though and we see that she becomes “absolutely ashamed of herself” and feels that “she had been blind, partial, prejudice, absurd”. Through this passage, we learn that Elizabeth is being increasingly aware of her prejudice towards Darcy.
Through the use of psychological realism, the reader often sees Darcy through Elizabeth’s point of view and through free indirect discourse, the reader naturally shares her views and prejudices against Darcy. However, through the use of dialogue, Austen recounts the happenings as it is from an unbiased viewpoint which enables us to gain access to Darcy’s thoughts and draw up our own conclusions about him. This is seen when Darcy says,” I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.” The readers may then be able to dismiss Darcy’s apparent “rudeness” in the Merryton Ball as his awkwardness in having to socialize with strangers.
Dialogue also has many other uses in portraying complex characters. The tone and structure of the dialogues are used to reflect the characters. For example, we see Elizabeth’s wit through the apparent irony in her dialogues. This can be seen when she is interrupted by Mr. Collins who says, "I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble, my dear sister?" and she replies by saying, “"You certainly do, but it does not follow that the interruption must be unwelcome” when it is obvious to the reader that his interruption is unwelcome. The structure of the dialogues is also sometimes used to reflect the personality of a character for example Lydia’s dialogue consists of breathless short sentences with many uses of exclamation mark. This is seen when she says,” Jane will be quite an old maid soon, I declare. She is almost three and twenty! Lord, how ashamed I should be of not being married before three and twenty!” This shows her rude and dramatic personality. Moreover, the frequent uses of the pronoun “I” in her speeches reflects that she is very self-centered.
Another very important function of dialogue is that it enables us to see the viewpoints of a third party on the main characters. This is seen through the dialogue shared between Mrs. Reynolds, Darcy’s housekeeper, and Elizabeth where she describes Darcy as “the best landlord, and the best master”. The readers are, thus, able to see the view of an unbiased and uninvolved third party on Darcy which gives the reader a reliable account of Darcy’s character.
Psychological realism is a tool used by Austen to portray her characters. However, this is even more pronounced in The Yellow Wallpaper, which seems to be set completely in the narrator’s mind. Again, this is mixed with the show-not-tell technique which enables the readers to not only gain access to the narrator’s thoughts, which are clouded by her mental state, but also gain a fuller picture of what is happening. This is seen when she describes the nursery as having “barred windows” and “rings and things in the walls”. Although it is obvious that the narrator does not understand why there are rings on the walls and why the windows are barred, this tells the reader that she is very much a prisoner in her house. The “rings and things in the walls” also causes the reader to be increasingly uncomfortable about the nursery and increasingly concerned for the narrator. Another example is when she says “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” and “He is very careful and loving and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” This is effective in portraying the character of John as we see how he treats her as well as her reaction. We can conclude that John is too protective of his wife and treats her as fragile and weak. He also does not take her seriously, though by saying “One expects that in marriage”, the Gilman subtly draws on the role of woman in marriage and society in her days.
The use of dialogue is also used by Gilman to portray John’s character. We often see John through the narrator’s point of view, which we learn is unreliable due to her mental state. Therefore, these dialogues become essential for the reader to understand the character of John. We see that he calls her a “blessed little goose” and “little girl” which, again, draws on the idea that he treats her as a child. This is emphasized when he says “Don’t go walking about like that – you’ll get cold”. He sometimes address the narrator as “she” even when they are conversing and dismisses the narrator’s longing of leaving the house as a “false and foolish fancy” which shows that he is patronizing and does not take the narrator seriously.
The setting of the yellow wallpaper is used to mirror the character of the narrator. The house is described as “quite alone” and “standing well back from the road”. This reflects the narrator’s character of loneliness and being isolated from society. The “barred windows” reflect the fact the narrator is trapped as if she is in a prison.
Similarly, in pride and prejudice, the setting is used to mirror the characters and the idea of interior and exterior is more pronounced. Elizabeth is often referred as being outdoors and “jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity”. This suggests that she has a very free-spirited mind and is not limited or affected by the values of society. Darcy on the other hand, is often found indoors in estates of the upper class. This reflects that he is perhaps bounded by the values of society and obligations as a man of great fortune. However, the ending shows Darcy walking outdoors with Elizabeth suggesting a development in character and the idea that he has broken free of the bonds and obligations of society.
Complex characters are created also by the use of letters or in the case of the yellow wallpaper, the diary and the wallpaper in which the characters are able to express their thoughts freely and uninterrupted. In the yellow wallpaper, the character of the narrator is somewhat obscured in the beginning due to the fact that she tries to be the person John wants her to be and her thoughts are often influenced by John. This makes us hard to understand her real character. This can be seen when she describes John as “careful and loving” and when she describes herself as being “unreasonable” when she is angry at John. However, as she continues writing and expressing her view, her character becomes much more pronounced as she no longer tries to hide her inner thoughts. At one point, she even says that John is “pretending to be very loving and kind”, showing that she is slowly able to see through John.
The yellow wallpaper itself is very important as it mirrors the narrator’s thoughts and feelings. The pattern symbolizes the restriction of society and the woman being the wallpaper can be interpreted as the stronger version of the narrator or another side of her character, who is no longer trapped by society and has broken free of her relationship with John. The narrator often describes the woman as “creeping” and “shaking the pattern”, suggesting that the woman is wanting to break free from the restriction of society and at the end, the two sides of her character merges as one as she “creeps” over John, suggesting that the narrator has succeeded in breaking free of imprisonment by John and by society.
Similarly, in Pride and Prejudice, letters are vital in portraying the characters. They allow the characters to express themselves freely and uninterrupted and is effective in revealing the personality of a character. This is seen through Mr Collins’ letters. They are very long-winded and take on a very posh tone. This is seen through the opening of his first letter to the Bennets where his first sentence continues without a stop for a very long time. Letters also enables readers to see things through the viewpoints of characters other than Elizabeth. Another example is Jane’s letter to Elizabeth to say that she is unwell. She says that her “kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better” and “do not be alarmed”. The fact that her friend is Miss Bingley who we learn is not kind shows that Jane seldom thinks ill of others. The fact that she says “do not be alarmed” and that her letter is relatively short shows that she is very selfless and does not want to make a fuss, which is very different from Lydia.
In conclusion, Austen and Gilman both use similar techniques such as psychological realism, use of setting and dialogue to create complex and three dimensional characters. However, there are also many other interests of the novel such as its portrayal of the role of women in society or its portrayal of the importance of class and status in society. This is seen though the voice of society which is present throughout the novel as well as caricatures such as Mr. Collins who voice out the expectations of society. Therefore, I believe that the portrayal of intricate characters if just one aspect of the novel.

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