Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen is among the first English novels. It was written at a time when England was highly fragmented into social classes. It was a period of violent social revolution in France caused by old aristocracy’s refusal to acknowledge the power and growing aspirations an emerging middle class. Jane Austen had great creativity in writing and brilliance in expressing a story, earning her the best novelist of the 19th century. The story introduces the reader to the financial and social importance of marriage to the women. Jane Austin clearly presents the consciousness of social class through different events and characters in the novel. The theme of the social class provides the readers n understanding about the personality of characters and consequences of their actions. The story illustrates the influence of social classes on the actions the interactions of people. Jane Austen attributed narrow-mindedness and other human weakness to the values that different social classes hold. Austen sterilizes social classes in a humorous way that helps to portray that moral virtues are more important than the social classes to which we claim allegiance.
From the early chapters, the story indicates that social class is important in making the choice of a marriage partner. The news about Bingley, the new upper-class landowner, made his neighbors develop great interest because of he was wealthy yet single. Most women looking for suitors admired him as the ideal husband. One of the women is Mrs. Bennet, who developed a strong interest on Mr. Bingley and desired that the man she knew least about marries her daughter. This indicated that people prefer a suitor of a higher social status. Surprisingly, social status comes before personality when making this important decision. "A single man of large fortune! What a fine thing for our girls. Despite Mrs. Bennet knowing little about Mr. Bingley, she has the immense willingness to arrange the marriage to ensure her daughter enjoys high financial stability and social status. She does not show any concern about the personality of Bingley. Through Mrs. Bennet, the author indicates how people pre-judge an individual based on social status even before they get to know the person.
The disparity between social classes between the characters of the novel creates attitudes that are thought to inform this novel’s title. The attitudes include pride and prejudice. The character Darcy has an aristocratic self-awareness that breeds his great pride. In the first ball when he was in the company of Bingley, the pride offended many people. The pride and prejudice shaped the people’s opinion that "He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world”. Darcy refused to dance with Elizabeth Bennet, indicating that he does not interact with people below his social class. He perceives others as inferior to him. Another character belonging to the upper social class but devoid of virtues is Bingley. She is prejudiced in favorite the rich people and exemplifies her dislike on the people below her class. She dislikes Elizabeth because of her jealous that Darcy pays more attention to Elizabeth than herself. She perceives herself to be socially and socially superior to Elizabeth and therefore, deserves the attention of Darcy more than Elizabeth. Through Miss Bingley's prejudice, the author showed how the awareness of social class disparities would lead to prejudice. Riding on this prejudice, Miss Bingley could criticize others based on the assumptions she held. "I do not like it at all ¦there is self-sufficiency without fashion, which she is intolerable”.
The author also used Darcy’s aunt called Lady Catherine to reflect how highly reputable people may not always be nice and pleasant. Though Lady Catherine represents the old aristocracy, she is self-center and ignorant of the dynamic world around she lives in. Lady Catherine is also filled with prejudice and pride, just like Darcy was at the initial stages of the story. Because of her pride, she looks down on Bennet’s family. She claims that the family has failed in "traditional way of educating and breeding the growing child without any governess "No governess! How was that possible? I never heard of such thing. Austen used this character ridicule the upper class’ lack of acceptability. By the use of Lady Catherine, the author demonstrates that the people in the upper social class us that the upper class perceives their lifestyle as better and superior to that of other people. When Lady Catherine, who comes from the upper social class, meets Elizabeth, a lady of the middle class, conflicts soon manifest. By showing that the ladies from different social class do not get along well, Austen demonstrates the gap that exists between people of different social classes. "I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet I am most seriously displeased.
The consciousness of social class also effects people’s actions. This concept is from the lifestyle of Mr. Collins. He is overtly obsessed with materialism and has a servile relationship with Lady Catherine. His actions and engagement in the relationship indicate the effect of class-consciousness on people’s compliance with social formalities. Though Mr. Collins is a clergyman, he flatters with the high-class and wealthy people such as Lady Catherine "Right Honorable Lady Catherine grateful respect toward her Ladyship”. The social formalities expect clergymen, like Mr. Collins, to be acceptable and socially respectful. Though, Austen portrays him as a narrow-minded and conceited person with a silly spirit, which makes him laughable. His character is a mixture of self-importance, pride, and obsequiousness. Even in the contemporary world, class has far reaching impacts on socialization. People in specific places of entertainment tend to belong to the same class. Through Collins, the author criticizes the society’s nature of praising the rich because of their wealth with disregard to their essential virtues.
Pride and Prejudice demonstrate that people constantly desire to move to a higher social class using whichever means. In chapter 43, Elizabeth takes a moment to tour the beautiful Pemberley estate, owned by Darcy. She desires to become Darcy’ mistress so that she can enjoy the pleasure of Pemberly. This thinking helps the author to portray the desire of people to look for a better life and higher living standards. An association with higher social class is one of the most important agenda for most people. “She felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something”. Austen also used George Wickham as a character to show how people desire to climb to a higher social class through dubious means. Wickham’s willingness to do engage in immoral practices to achieve higher status points out to the ugly nature of people’s desire for material things. Wickham elopes with Lydia, who is Darcy's sister for self-seeking gains. The Bennet’s family is concerned about its reputation and Darcy pays him to agree to marry Lydia "Wickham never intended to go there or to marry Lydia. Wickham is not remorseful for degrading Lydia’s fame and her family’s reputation. Austen uses this character to mock the weakness of human nature through portraying people’s readiness to engage in immoral actions to attain a higher social class.
The events following the elopement of Wickham with Lydia revealed that social class is associated with the high alertness of reputation. Anxiety mounts among the Bennets when they find out that Lydia elopes with Wickham. They are certain that the decision that Lydia made will ruin the reputation of the family and consequently reduce the social acceptability of their family. To maintain their family’s reputation, they pay Wickham money for the marriage.
The importance of social class is a significant influential factor when people make marriage decisions in the novel. Class is still an important consideration in the contemporary world when people make decisions such as place of residence, schools and even religious affiliations. The previous paragraphs mentioned that Mrs. Bennet grew increasingly anxious to wed her daughter to a middle-class man. The anxiety grew due to the social and financial expectations of the society in the family and its relations. The society values wealth and high status to guarantee the happy life. "If I can see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for. Darcy is excessively conscious of the class difference between him and Elizabeth when deciding on their courtship. When he first proposes to Elizabeth, he points out that by marrying Elizabeth, he is demeaning himself. The utterances offended Elizabeth, making the proposal fail. The Darcy and Elizabeth’s failed courtship indicate the author’s view of the importance of social class in making the life’s important choices, even if it hurts other people. The over-consciousness of social class can become a barrier to happiness "There are nature and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?
As the story draws to an end, the author clearly demonstrates her value toward the social class by the happy ending of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage. The author used the success of the marriage to counter the tradition of basing marriage on a desired social class status. Lady Catherine presents her reservations to Elizabeth about her engagement with Darcy. Lady Catherine claims that since Elizabeth belongings to the low social class, Darcy’s social prestige will be disgraced if they married. "Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eye of everybody? However, Elizabeth refused to take Lady Catherine's advice “And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. The refusal is synonymous with Jane Austen’s message that we should not peg all judgments on social class. On a social comparison of Lady Catherine and Elizabeth’s character, we could view Lady Catherine as a pleasant person since she has material possessions and admirable social status. However, the author throughout the novel tries to emphasize the importance of moral class over social class. Hence, Elizabeth should earn more admiration and praise because of her high moral class and honorable virtue.
However, much importance the tradition attached to social values, the conventional social value is dying down. The author finally presents successful intermarriages and happy ending between people of diverse social classes. This is the author’s indication that the tradition is fading away. The society can better improve the life of people by reducing the consciousness of social classes and accepting marriages without the bias of an individual’s social class. The elimination of these boundaries between people will bring forth more possibilities for harmonious living and reduction of conflicts between people. The reduction of consciousness of social values will reduce false social values that tie people when they make life’s important choices. Though Jane Austen addressed the middle and upper class in the novel, she conveyed human issues such as family life, human relationship, material resources and moral values. The novel imparts valuable knowledge to readers on how they can integrate wealth and values to create desirable human relations.