Discuss the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.
Society can often be the most influential factor in determining the course of an individual’s life. The rigidity of convention and the pressure to be constrained by not crossing the line of propriety may make the goal of achieving happiness almost impossible to obtain. In Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, the author exemplifies the idea breaking of convention by the two central characters in the text, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Both individuals are confined in the lives they were born into – Elizabeth being a woman, and Darcy being an affluent member of the upper class. Together, they choose to go against society’s expectations, risking their reputation and their pride, in order to reach a state of contentment with the lives they have built for themselves. Darcy and Elizabeth’s attempts to live unconstrained by the harsh confines of the world inevitably mould them into the resilient characters they become by the end of the text. Austen develops the idea that when an individual realizes that he or she can attain happiness through the breaking of societal convention, one will develop the drive to achieve this ideal regardless of the restrictions faced.
In the 19th century, the convention of marriage was instilled into the minds of women from an extremely young age. The goal of every woman when she reached the rightful age should have been to find a suitor able to provide for her and to hopefully ensure her a higher place in society. However, Elizabeth, the second eldest sister in the Bennet family, makes it clear from the beginning of the novel that she will not under any circumstance compromise her values in relation to marriage. Her headstrong personality is initially portrayed when Mr. Collins, a wealthy bachelor destined to receive an inheritance from one of the richest women the Bennet family knew, proposed to Elizabeth. Despite the extreme pressure she faced from her mother and sisters to accept what seemed like a generous offer for a lavish lifestyle and guaranteed security in the upper class, she refused, understanding that she would never be able to be happy with a man whose affections for her were not returned. This event was essential in moulding Elizabeth a tenacious woman, capable of going against society’s norms for her benefit. One is more likely to pursue their ideals after they have taken the first step out of society’s box, and refusing he or she’s delegated role in the world. Elizabeth’s self-respect and aspirations were often ridiculed by those around her, as women in her time period were always expected to put other’s needs before their own. In many situations, this would lead to an unfulfilled life and a complete lack of love in a marriage only formed to appease society and the woman’s family, which was exactly what she was attempting to avoid. Elizabeth continued to reject two proposals from Mr. Darcy, a man richer than Mr. Collins and exceedingly more eloquent and sure of his undeniable affections towards her. Despite his attempts to marry her, Elizabeth declined because of the lack of clarity in her feelings towards him. When she did finally agree to marry Darcy, she had accepted her feelings and had faith in them, assuring her father that “Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice, by explaining the gradual change which her estimation of him had undergone, relating to her absolute certainty that his affection was not the work of a day.” (324) The diction in the passage illustrates Elizabeth’s absolute certainty that she will achieve happiness through love in marrying Darcy. The word choice is perhaps the most defining choice in the quote, because for most women, there is no choice when it came to marrying. Elizabeth had created choices for herself through her desire to achieve her ideals and her ability to sacrifice her reputation and pride. One can argue that an individual’s capability to feel and accept love is only able to be attained when he or she experiences affection without pressure from outside forces.The fulfilling life one desires is made a reality by breaking society’s conventions and putting one’s own goals before the expectations of others.
Convention is a part of every class in society, and perhaps the most structured lifestyle is expected in the upper class. Darcy, a prideful individual born into a family of wealth and prosperity, had been brought into the world to continue his family’s influence in society. Unlike Elizabeth, whose values had been clear from early in her life, Darcy’s reluctance to conform to society began when he started to develop feelings for Elizabeth. It seemed like the most incompatible and unlikely match one could fathom, but when Darcy began to realize the extent of his affections toward a member of the middle class whose family could not be taken seriously, no social standings mattered to him anymore. He had understood that his only chance for happiness was through being with Elizabeth, and through extreme perseverance and determination, he pursued his desire. It was clear that being with Elizabeth would compromise his social acceptance and tarnish his family name, which was a difficult barrier to cross for an individual whose values had been to serve society and his family for most of his life. Meeting Elizabeth was the only time Darcy was enabled to connect with another person not because he was forced to or expected to, but because her wit and intelligence were more attractive to him than any amount of money. When one chooses not to play society’s twisted game, he or she is not guaranteed to find the happiness lacking in the life they have been born into. The ability to risk social standing and happiness is found when a strong willed individual is willing to pursue their ideals because they are convinced that a life made by them will be more fulfilling than a life forced upon them by society.
Creating a life not controlled by society is not for the weak minded. It requires an absolute faith and determination in the ideals one desires to achieve, and a self-respect that can only be attained through the strength in one’s values. Through her portrayal of Elizabeth and Darcy in her novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen proves that happiness can be found when individuals choose to life unconstrained by convention. The life they build for themselves without outside pressure and expectations will be extremely more fulfilling than a life chosen for them by a world in which abiding by structure seems like the only way to survive.