Discuss the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.
The Pursuit of Happiness
When an individual tries to pursue their happiness, society’s convention and expectations represent as a constraint on said person’s life. However, when this individual steps over these limitations, then they are presented as someone who values their personal desires. These values of individualism get looked down upon since they are not similar to the rest of society. Conventions have to lead to the belief that marriage, status, and other materialistic values rise above personal goals and decisions. In the novel Pride and Prejudice, it is set in a time period where marriage and status overrun the idea of self-respect and independence. Elizabeth Bennett is an example of an individual who defies social convention in the pursuit of her own happiness. She believes in achieving her own personal desires, even though it is against tradition. It is through this novel, that the author Jane Austen explores the idea that an individual should not be constrained by the expectations of society when pursuing their happiness. She develops this idea through Elizabeth Bennet who was not influenced by the views of others, not fulfilling society’s expectation of the role as a woman and looking for a meaningful relationship.
When an individual respects their values and identity, the judgment of others does not influence them. Mr. Collins, an annoying and awkward man proposed to Elizabeth Bennett, saying that he was in search of a wife, and “since it is a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances to set the example of matrimony in his parish”(Chap.19). When Elizabeth had rejected him, he believes it “secretly means to accept desperate” (Chap. 19) your suitor. Trying once more, he has rejected again, Elizabeth knows the benefits of the union would not only help her but also her family; if she had accepted his offer then the house she lived in would stay her own. This will allow for her sisters and mother to have a place to stay until they themselves find husbands. If her father had died before the marriage of the Bennett sisters, they would have a roof over their head. However, she chose otherwise and did not allow her mother’s judgment to influence her decision. When Elizabeth had declined Mr. Collins proposes she was immediately judged by her mother. Elizabeth’s mother was furious when she had figured out and did not understand why Elizabeth did not accept the offer. In her mind, it was a woman’s role to settle down, get married, and have children. Her mother believed that marriage is the most important thing. Rejecting Mr. Collins offer inevitably allowed Elizabeth to fall in love with Mr. Darcy and marry him instead. The author demonstrated the idea that if an individual were to pursue their own happiness and not bend to the views of others then eventually the individual will fulfill their personal goals.
Gender identity and convention play hand in hand on the ideology of how a woman should act and behave. In the novel Pride and Prejudice, a theme present throughout the novel was the role of women, as it serves as a catalyst on the way Elizabeth Bennett was present throughout the novel. Elizabeth Bennett opposed the social construct that limited the way how she wanted to live. Throughout the novel, she has questioned time and time again on how accomplished she was. An example of this would be her meeting with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. “Her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not used to having her judgment controverted.” (29.11-15), the Lady’s views were that women should play the pianoforte, do the arts and have a governess. Elizabeth not having any of these requirements said no to all of them. This plays into the idea that when an individual does not get categorized into their designated role then society push the individual to change into what they want them to be. Lady Catherine was represented in the novel as an egocentric individual who wanted everyone to conform to her values and views. Lady Catherine just like Elizabeth’s mother believed women have a specific role and it is to abide by the will of others and they have to play the part set out by society.
When an individual has respect for the decisions they make, this individual sees more than the materialistic value of a person. As Elizabeth’s and Mr. Darcy’s relationship continued, Elizabeth started to accept the feeling she had for him. Which inevitably show how Elizabeth had confirmed since Mr. Darcy is the type of man she is expected to marry. However, when Elizabeth found out that the reason Mr. Bingley had stopped seeing Jane was due to Mr. Darcy; this became one of the reasons that lead to her rejecting Mr. Darcy’s hand in marriage. Since he is “the last man in the world whom [she] could ever be prevailed on to marry.” (Chapter 13). However, as time wore on, Mr. Darcy was adamant on proving to Elizabeth that he is a gentleman, by first bringing Jane and Mr. Bingley together, then by helping Elizabeth’s family in finding Lydia and saving their dignity. This all lead to her to accept the feeling she had for him once again, and marry him.
Elizabeth did not allow others to make her conform to their wishes. This allowed her to find her happiness, and able to live a life unconstrained by the beliefs in society. The author presented the idea that we must not conform to the values of others if our own personal desires are more important than a convention of society. The role women are expected to play, helps us understand the necessity of trying to be more independent and self-reliant. If an individual wants to pursue their belief and goal it leads to the happiness of the individual once they have achieved them.