Prompt: Discuss the ways in which individuals pursue or compromise their happiness
In an attempt to pursue their own desires rather than be hindered by society’s conventions, individuals may find rejection of their ideals by society. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one can see these ideals pursued through the development of Elizabeth Bennet’s character. In this time period, talking and acting outside the usual was unheard of and frown upon, which is what further spurred Elizabeth’s desire to be different from society; in this case, she acted strongly on her belief that both sides could prosper in a love marriage, an idea that was deemed outrageous and discouraged by the majority of her surroundings. Thus, when an individual decides to reject society’s view on the validity of an arranged marriage, their opinions are often rebuffed by the public.
The rules and restrictions practiced by society are often the standards in which individuals must follow, or otherwise be regarded as an outsider and therefore looked down upon. From the very start, Elizabeth Bennet was different from other girls, in which she was very independent and strong willed, unwilling to conform to the expectations of other girls of her time. The biggest difference that set her apart from other women, however, was her beliefs on marriage. Both the men and women were expected to follow the traditional gender roles in this time period, in which the men had the obligation of providing the income for his family and women had to play out the role of the housewife. Therefore, women in her time married only for the security a man’s wealth could provide, for both herself and her family; in these cases, love was not a deciding factor if the marriage was compatible or not. Elizabeth strongly disapproved of this and decided to follow her own set of beliefs that strongly reflected feminist values. These series of self-imposed ideals eventually led her to become the strong-willed individual that is seen throughout the novel. Ironically, Elizabeth’s abandonment of traditional values and strong-willed character is what attracts Darcy. Unbeknownst to her, Darcy also valued the same beliefs and principles as her and did not conform to the usual standards for people of his rank, as he possessed traits, such as honour and intelligence, that so many people of his social class lacked. Due to these factors and the fact that he recognized so many of his inner traits in Elizabeth, he eventually began to fall in love with her.
In an attempt to prove their own ideals, an individual may decide to forego to ignore all accusations from the public on the validity of their claim that a love marriage is the only way that someone can find happiness. Due to the fact that Elizabeth firmly believed that her ideals were correct, and that society itself was flawed in its views on marriage, she became an even more staunch supporter of her own beliefs. This was most prominently displayed when both Mr. Collins and Darcy proposed to her, and she turned down both proposals, causing outrage among her family and public, who were unable to comprehend the validity of Elizabeth’s claim of deriving happiness from a love marriage. She obstinately believed that she would be miserable in a marriage with either men, as she thought that they had little compatibility together. These series of revelations eventually drew conflict between her and her best friend, Charlotte, who had taken the opportunity of Mr. Collins’ availability and immediately married him, which astounded Elizabeth, as she could not understand how Charlotte could derive any happiness from such a marriage, even though she would not have to worry about money. This course of events solidified Elizabeth’s ideals, in the sense that it cemented her belief that money was not important in a marriage, only love.
As Elizabeth grew more set against the belief that only money and the elevation in status mattered for a marriage to be successful, her self confidence increased as well. These beliefs were soon justified as she finally found her true love in Darcy, and he proposed to her. This proved, not only to herself, but everyone around her that status did not matter if they truly loved that person. However, even though Darcy was exceedingly wealthy, she was initially repulsed by his attitude and pride, going as far as to deny his first proposal, causing outrage as to how she could refuse such an opportunity of potential elevation of status by marrying him. This caused controversy among her surroundings; without a wealthy husband who could support her, Elizabeth’s family would soon become penniless as soon as they lost their estate to an entail. This meant that finding a proper husband for her was of the utmost importance. Elizabeth rebuffed all accusations and stayed true to her ideals to the very end, proving that a love marriage was the only way that women could find happiness in their life.
Proven by Elizabeth’s journey in her pursuit of happiness, one can only find such desires by following their heart rather than conforming to society’s values and ideals. Even though Elizabeth faced many hardships and discouragement by following her heart, she ultimately triumphed, and found the marriage that she longed for her entire life. Thus, Austen proves that, through the character development of Elizabeth Bennet, a love marriage is the only way an individual can find happiness.