Discuss the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.
When Circumstance Meets Self-Respect
When an individual values their own personal happiness more than the conventional ideals imposed on them by society, it signifies a fortified sense of self-respect. In other words, one cannot overcome the boundaries enforced by society without a coherent understanding of the value their personal desires behold. The merit in which society has placed in the ideas of wealth, marriage, and status have a way of marginalizing those who see above the materialistic values such ideas establish, and it is those same individuals who are labeled as “unsophisticated”, rather than the more deserving title, “confident”. For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice the main character Elizabeth Bennet – the second eldest daughter of a family of the lower Gentry Class during the early nineteenth century , possesses a rare sense of self-respect for her time era, thus allowing her to live unconstrained by the ideals imposed on her by her circumstance. Rather than fawning over officers at the ball or fantasizing about her wedding day, Elizabeth’s priorities lie in pursuing an agenda of her own. The act of denying not one, but two proposals from men whose social status and wealth exceed that of her own, signified her sense of dignity; thereby depicting that she understood at the time of their proposals, neither man were worthy of her hand. One might argue that the character of Elizabeth Bennet signifies the author’s message about how individuals who live unconstrained by the judgments of society are only capable of doing so, for they possess a sense of self-respect; therefore, discovering a more meaningful purpose than the status quo.
When and individual respects their happiness more than their own reputation, they are able to deny the temptation of tradition, and instead, chose a course more suited to their character. When the wealthy but senseless Mr.Collins arrives at the Bennet estate and professes that he is in search of a wife, Elizabeth proves to be uninterested. Within a matter of hours Mr. Collins finds himself enrapt of Elizabeth’s confidence and becomes determined to ask for her hand, only when he does so, he is met with her rejection. Unable to comprehend why a woman would ever deny a man of his status he assures himself that she is only joking, and asks again. Elizabeth denies his proposal once more, exemplifying her fortified self-respect for she values her own happiness more than the status Collins offers. Because she is able to see past the faults in arranged marriages, Elizabeth understands that a man like Collins, “Could never make [her] happy, and [she] is convinced that [she] is the last woman in the world to make [him] so,” (102) By turning down Mr.Collins’ proposal Elizabeth is quickly judged by those around her. Punished for her independence and judged harshly by many, Elizabeth’s fortitudes illustrated how when an individual possesses a sense of respect for themselves, they are more likely to chose a path that allows them to live unconstrained — even if this means rebelling against societal norms. It is the individual’s self-respect that truly awards them with dignity and honor, rather than the follies of wealth and marriage, and allows them to pursue their personal happiness instead of sacrificing it.
An individual capable of self-respect is able to see beyond the material value established behind a name or a number and can avoid becoming ensnared in society’s beliefs. The developing relationship of Mr.Darcy and Elizabeth focuses on Elizabeth’s stubborn attitude regarding her feelings for him. Should she allow herself to admit she is attracted to him, she would have been conforming to the constraints she had fought against her entire life. A man like Darcy – rich and powerful – was exactly who society would have her marry, and by doing so Elizabeth believed she would be sacrificing her personal happiness and respect. Elizabeth believed she deserved to be married to a man who loved her, more than his own reputation, so when she learned of his betrayal to her family she denied his heartfelt proposal. Elizabeth, “Lost all compassion in anger,” and rejected Darcy, for she respected herself, and her family, too much to marry a man incapable of living outside of society’s margins. It was not until Darcy was able to live beyond said margins, and offer her a life unconstrained by the pressures of society, that she was able to accept her feelings for him, and ultimately, marry him.
Many of society’s elite would have been perceived as intimidating to those of the Gentry Class, but when Lady Cathrine arrived at Longbourn and demanded to speak with Elizabeth regarding her relationship with Mr.Darcy, Elizabeth refused to be bullied out of her beliefs. One might have believed she would have been riddled with anxiety or fear; however, the opposite proved to be true, and Elizabeth confidently held her ground against her societal superior. Following Lady Cathrine’s threats and name calling, Elizabeth states that, “[She] is only resolved to act in a manner, which will, in [her] own opinion, constitute [her] happiness without any reference to [Lady Cathrine], or to any other person so wholly unconnected with [herself],” (338) thus demonstrating the confidence her self-respect provided her — how it was this confidence that allowed her to break the constraints in which Lady Cathrine sought to impose upon her. By standing behind the idea that her choices were her own, and nobody else’s to make, Elizabeth was able to avoid succumbing to the suffocating pressures of society and continue to live fortified by her self-respect.
One cannot resist the temptation of living a traditional, societally accepted life without the discipline of self-respect, for it is this that allows them to see past the trivial ideals held by society and, instead, live a life more likely to provided them with happiness. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the main character Elizabeth Bennet demonstrates this idea through her confident persona and rebellious actions. By dismissing society’s judgements, Elizabeth is able to live unconstrained by the beliefs of her circumstance, and furthermore, prevail with a fortified sense of self and dignity.