The Impact of Society’s Marital ideals on an Individual’s Pursuit of Happiness as Seen in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Discuss the ways in which individuals pursue or compromise their happiness
The choice to pursue or compromise one’s happiness in an individual’s life is a driving force in every decision one may make. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet is described as an intelligent young lady who is frequently defiant of societal measures that compromise her values. Elizabeth leaves the people in her society frequently bewildered by her opposition and, further, disregard of social construct. While Charlotte Lucas acts as a FOIL, a contrasting character that highlights characteristics of another character, because she is a quiet, quintessential lady of the time leading a life in hopes of not only elevating her social status, but also pleasing societal ideals – shocking few. Jane Austen develops the idea that when faced with a desperate situation a strong willed individual will resolve the issues they are faced with while still pursuing their happiness. This idea is argued through the defiant nature of Elizabeth Bennet as contrasted with the passive nature of Charlotte Lucas as they are forced to choose between marriage and love. In the end, however, Elizabeth’s indifference toward social construct lead to her finding happiness in her life through falling in love, while Charlotte’s happiness was left compromised as she chooses marriage over love.
As a young lady in a 19th century society continually reminded of her need of marriage, Elizabeth’s actions were not only motivated by her but also in hopes of defying the perception those around her had of her. Elizabeth’s 19th century feminism left many – men and women alike – astonished by her confidence. Elizabeth’s ability to invoke curiosity in those around her proves important as she by refusing to acquire anything below her standards of worthwhile pursued her happiness. The refusal to accept anything that is of a standard lower than what is desirable, in this case society’s marital pressures, represents the idea that an individual with unwavering fortitude pursues their happiness regardless of societal pressures. She believed so dearly that one should marry for love rather than for status and financial support that she refused two proposals from two very wealthy suitors. This left her mother absolutely mortified and apt to disown Elizabeth as one of her children because the Bennet’s were in dire need of financial support as when Mr. Bennett passed away their family would be classless – outcasts in their society. Her rejections of the proposals go to support Elizabeth’s pursuit of love over marriage as her source of happiness. Albeit the acceptance of either of the proposals would have given their family a sense of financial security, Elizabeth’s joy was not found in the pleasing of those around her, but rather in living by her virtues. Thus, this goes to exemplify the idea that a strong willed individual will not conform to the belief of others but rather will live by their principle as they pursue their happiness. Elizabeth’s disregard of the idea that women must rely on the assistance of men is further supported when she says, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?” (Elizabeth, chapter 27) Elizabeth’s comparison of young men to going for a walk holds significance as the ideals of so many around her was that she, as well as all of her sisters, be married and live their lives relying on the support of a man as soon as they were capable of doing so. Elizabeth not only ignores what her society tells her that she needs – a husband – but continues to pursue her happiness through the enjoyment of her youth, as to pursuing adult relationships. Elizabeth’s defiance exemplifies the idea that an unsubmissive individual, when told they must compromise their happiness, will pay no attention to the opinions of those around them and continue to pursue their bliss where they deem fit.
Charlotte Lucas, also a miss in the 1800s continually cautioned of her need of marriage, is a significant FOIL to Elizabeth as she allows her actions to be motivated by the ideals of those around her. Charlotte, being from a low class family, was lead to believe that marriage was more significant than love as it was a means for her to gain a higher status, which meant an opportunity at power, success, and wealth in their society. Charlotte’s constant compromising of her happiness through accepting less than ideal standards of romance and love are greatly opposed by Elizabeth’s as, although she too needs to marry to gain status, pursues love over marriage as love, for her, translates into a source of joy. Charlotte’s opposing views are exemplified as she states, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least.” (Charlotte Lucas, Chapter 6) Her cynical, though arguably realistic perspective based on her position, perspective is paramount as it not only gives insight into the mind of Charlotte but embodies the idea that a weak-willed individual, when faced with a dire situation, will be easily willing to compromise their happiness in hopes of a better future. Charlotte is once again contrasted to Elizabeth as she was willing to compromise her joy by sacrificing her youth for a joy filled adult life. Charlotte does not allow herself to enjoy her youth and explore the world as Elizabeth had because she so quickly delves into marriage, while Elizabeth takes full charge and advantage of her youth by exploring what the world has to offer her. This contrast is crucial as it depicts the thought that a passive individual will sacrifice their joy in hopes of fulfilling the ideals of others.
Jane Austen demonstrates the idea that in spite of being in a desperate situation a strong willed individual will resolve the adversity at hand while still pursuing their joy through the character of Elizabeth. This idea is contrasted by Charlotte Lucas who exemplifies the idea that a weak-willed individual will settle misfortune by compromising their happiness and conforming to societal standards. Elizabeth’s shocking personality frequently bewildered many due to her opposition and disregard of social construct. While Charlotte Lucas leads a life in hopes of pleasing societal ideals – a perfect lady of the time. Elizabeth, a strong willed individual who believes that love holds significance over marriage, when contrasted with Charlotte, a passive young woman who is described to be a conformist who believes one must marry regardless of love, goes to support the theme of marriage versus love as an example of an individual’s choice to pursue or compromise their happiness.