One of the major themes in the novel, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, is marriage. Unlike today, women in the nineteenth century women did not have a lot choices. One of the choices include marriage. Women in this time were held back and are not expected to have careers like men. Once they decide on a man, there is no going back and divorce was considered uncommon. The women in the novel, each display their thoughts on marriage. However, Elizabeth Bennett, who is opinionated and passionate about her beliefs, is inclined to disagree with the norms of the society the most. While others believe that marriage is the key to happiness, she disagrees. She is not easily influenced by those surrounding her, even her family, and her honesty and wit allow her to avoid the drama that dominates the society. Moreover, she displays a vigor and intellegence that appeals to the readers as well as the characters.
In the time of the novel, most marriages are purely based on economic necessities rather than romance. Similar to women, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (5), which is caused by the pressure and expectations. However, men are able to make choices and will not be ruined by marriages. Women, on the other hand, rely on their husbands for money and social status. If she does not pick the right man, she has no other options. “It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them” (7). This displays that women are essentially powerless, and they are almost considered to be useless if they do not visit a man for the purpose of marriage. Marriages are not based on romance, families think that for a woman to marry a man based on his looks and romance is idiotic. Romance does not come with the marriage but instead, is a bonus. An example of this is Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins who is not appealing in terms of his personality, is a clergyman and it is known that his social status is respectable. Charlotte, who thinks in a traditional way, have come to terms and think that it is better than having no husband. She “had time to consider of it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins to be sure was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would rather be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained…without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it” (120). Even though events like this occur today, it is less common for a woman to marry a man, only because of his money and expect to find happiness.
Elizabeth’s sharp tongue is quick to judge Charlotte’s assessment on marriage. Elizabeth thinks in an advanced way and seems to be ahead of the other characters in the novel. She suggests that it is better for a woman to be sure with her feelings towards the man, which Charlotte clearly disagrees. Charlotte believes that for her to be happy in a marriage, is by having low expectations. Her only desires are to have a house to keep and children to raise. She also believes that she does not want to know a lot of the man as it could ruin a couple’s relationship. Charlotte states that she hopes that Elizabeth “will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state (123)”.
Not only does Elizabeth strongly disagree with Charlotte, she also disagrees with her parents. Her parents, like Charlotte, stay true to the societal norms and are afraid to break down the pre-written expectations. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett represent an ideal couple of the nineteenth century. In Addition to marrying someone because of their economic stability, marrying a person based on appearances and chemistry is not smart either. ” Mr. Bennett captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (228). Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, who were attracted to each other, came to conclusion spontaneously. They did not know what they were getting themselves into and if they would be happy in the future or not. In the marriage, Mr. Bennett disrespects his wife in a variety of ways, for his amusement and comfort. “To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement” (228). This is incredibly disrespectful and Elizabeth is quick to notice the problem in their marriage. Because of Mrs. Bennett’s foolishness and her only goal is to see her daughters being married to men of class, Mr. Bennett continues to make fun of her for his own pleasure. However, when Elizabeth refuses to marry Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennett respects the fact that she is willing to stand up for her beliefs. Mrs. Bennett then orders Mr. Bennett to tell Elizabeth that she will never see her mother again if she marries Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennett says to Elizabeth, “your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do” to support his daughter’s decision. Furthermore, Miss Bingley, a woman herself, assumes the amount of talent a woman can possess. “Oh! Certainly, no woman can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved” (39). She implies that the only purpose of women in the nineteenth century is to attract men and get married. Therefore, it is important for them to be able to draw, dance, sing, and use the modern language. In contrary of today’s world, women can possess many talents other than those listed and do not have to rely on men. Today, women are not restricted only to activities that are considered “feminine” but they are involved in athletics, economy, and critical thinking. Women today exhibit as much talent as a man and it is possible for them to have the same amount of success as men.
In conclusion, Elizabeth’s character symbolizes a progressive and modern way of thinking. She is not easily influenced by those around her and holds her beliefs. She believes that marrying someone because of looks and economic stability is not the solution. She disagrees in spontaneous choices which would cause mistakes made by her sisters and parents. For example, Elizabeth waits to be sure that she truly loves Darcy and evaluates Darcy’s actions. Ultimately, today, there are many factors that must be considered before getting married. Just because someone is rich or likeable does not mean that love is present because that is not the key to happiness.