Jane Austen’s Satirical Writing:
Analyzing the Satire of Social Class Within Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice delves into the issue of why social standing in a society based solely on class should not be the most important thing when evaluating the worth of a person. Through several different literary techniques – such as letters and abundant focalizers – Austen conveys important information about key issues she has with the significance placed on social standing. The theme of class and social standing is echoed constantly throughout Austen’s novel in numerous ways, highlighting several aspects of the gentry that she distrusts. The entirety of the novel focuses mainly on the distances placed between characters due to their social standing in a class based society. Regardless of how fit a person may be in either mind or capabilities, if a high sum of money is not contained within their personhood (or their estate), they are considered menial. Jane Austen uses the social relationships between her characters to satirize the importance placed on the hierarchy of class in society. Austen wrote the novel in order to define and satirize the problems that she saw in the hierarchy of class in the society of her time. Throughout the entire novel “there isn’t a character…who’s introduced without his income being mentioned in the next sentence” (Selznick 92). The ridiculousness of the value placed upon money – of which the middle class has very little – is evident as Austen progresses the story and the relationships between her characters – namely between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. The fact that, in Austen’s time, the society revolved around the gentry – whose entire idea of class and power involved money – makes it easier for the audience reading Pride and Prejudice to understand why she has satirized this issue. She does this quite flawlessly throughout the novel, relying on her knowledge of the increasing adamancy of the middle class to gain social status and power through more than just land, money and relations. The significance of social standing and the desire of the characters aspire to it can be seen in different instances throughout the novel. However, there are a few characters for which the idea of wealth and power mean very little, who strive to better themselves through their own wit and charm, rather than through the advantages of money. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist of the novel, is one such character. It is difficult for her to adjust to the sense of reality in which the novel exists due to the fact that the society has been permanently established and there is very little she can do to earn the credit she deserves. Yet it is due to Elizabeth’s unique personality that the audience is able to understand why her interest for the things at Pemberley and the positive change in heart she has for Mr. Darcy’s character show the dual nature of how Austen thought of the personal attainment of identity and morality balanced with her begrudged acknowledgement of a limited and restrained society (Hamilton). There are several other characters that believe the importance placed on monetary gain to be superfluous and still others that also come to realize this. It is through both the understanding and ignorance of these characters that it becomes evident just how deeply Austen distrusted the idea of an individual requiring social power in order to be recognized as an accomplished individual. Austen paid especially close attention to economic and social standing when it came to her characters for the express purpose of satirizing why their superior class was not necessarily more agreeable or accomplished than those in the lower classes. She wrote her novels with the idea that “the quality of humanity is to be judged by moral and human standards…not by social status; but like her own temporary snobs…she pays full attention to their social status first” (Copeland 121). As seen with Austen’s character Mr....
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