Pride and Prejudice

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"Different ideas of the woman's role in society, especially marriage" ("Pride and Prejudice", chapter 6) 1. Summary (and "Einordnung" in the context of the novel) Jane Austen's novel 'Pride and Prejudice' deals with the English upper-class society in the early 19th century.

The main characters are the five daughters in the Bennet family, who have to marry into a wealthy family so that they can be financially taken care of. As there is no son in the Bennet family, all family possession will be inherited by the sisters' cousin Mr. Collins with whom they aren't on good terms.

When Mr. Bingley and his friend Mr. Darcy, who are two attractive and rich young men, move into the district, there is an opportunity for the daughters to get married.

A few days later there is a ball in the neighbourhood during which Mr. Bingley greatly admires Jane, the eldest of the Bennet daughters.

Mr. Bingley is a very friendly young man and so everybody likes him, but his friend Mr. Darcy is very proud and arrogant. He only dances and talks with people from his party and as Mr. Bingley asks him to dance with Elizabeth Bennet, who is almost as beautiful as her elder sister Jane, but he declines because he doesn't find her beautiful enough.

Within the next days Mr. Bingley and his party visit the Bennets who soon return the visit. Mr. Bingley still admires Jane and she is very much love with him.

Elizabeth and her friend Charlotte discuss how Jane should behave towards Mr. Bingley. While Elizabeth thinks that she should act in a natural way, Charlotte has the opinion that a woman has to act purposefully in order marry well.

Mr. Darcy's opinion on Elizabeth changes. He now considers her to be beautiful. On the next ball he tries to find out more about her. But Elizabeth doesn't like this and refuses to dance with him when the host, Sir Lucas, asks her to. Mr. Darcy however is still very interested in Elizabeth.

2. Interpretation: a) In the context of the novel: In the following text I deal with Elizabeth's and Charlotte's different opinions about how Jane should behave towards Mr. Bingley (as mentioned in their discussion on page 19f.). In their views on this subject it also becomes clear what they think about the woman's role in society in general, especially towards her (future) husband and in marriage.

Elizabeth agrees completely with Jane's behaviour, who doesn't make it obvious for the public that she is in love with Mr. Bingley (compare p.19, first paragraph). But Elizabeth's friend Charlotte thinks that "[Jane] might lose the opportunity of fixing [Mr. Bingley]" if she conceals her affection from him. In Charlotte's opinion it is very important that a woman doesn't only show her real emotions to the man she loves but also exaggerates them to make sure that he notices her feelings (compare "a woman had better show more affection than she feels" and "he may never ... help him on"). Elizabeth on the other hand believes that Mr. Bingley has to find out if Jane loves him.

So the main difference in the friends' attitude is about the question how a woman should behave towards her possible future husband and for what reasons she should marry a man. Charlotte thinks that the woman has to make sure that she is financially supported and that her decision on who to marry for this reason shouldn't be based on her feelings but material aspects.

Elizabeth however is more emancipated and therefore doesn't accept her friend's point of view. She doesn't want to marry a man for financial reasons; she wants to be sure that she really loves this man.

Their contrary positions become even more obvious in the second half of their discussion. In reply to Charlotte's statement that Jane has to "command [Mr. Bingley's] attention" whenever they meet until she is "secure of him", Elizabeth says that Jane doesn't have the plan to get well married. Elizabeth thinks that Jane has to meet Mr. Bingley more often to become aware of his character because she will only be able to marry him if she knows him better.

I don't think that Elizabeth only points out Jane's position here. She also shares her views, which later in chapter six becomes more clearly as she refuses to dance with the rich Mr. Darcy because she doesn't like his character.

Charlotte nevertheless stresses that in her belief happiness in marriage doesn't depend on analysing the other's character but is "entirely a matter of chance". She even says that "it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life." Elizabeth doesn't believe her friend that she would really act like this but later in the novel Charlotte marries Mr. Collins. When Elizabeth then asks her why she acted this way, Charlotte gives the same reasons, which she had already mentioned in their discussion (p.100f., e.g. "I ask only a comfortable home").

Elizabeth however doesn't change her position and rejects Mr. Collins offer of marriage. As she marries Mr. Darcy in the end she doesn't give up her attitude because she really loves him as she now knows his character, which has changed, better.

Finally I would like to say that Elizabeth and Charlotte represent two different ideas of the woman's role in society. Charlotte accepts that in these times most women weren't economically independent and therefore couldn't marry because of romantic feelings but had to marry to be supported. Elizabeth doesn't accept this. She is emancipated and only wants to marry a man who she really loves.

b) In the context of the first semester: In the first semester we dealt with many different texts which also included different views on this subject.

"Love, Schmove" e.g. also deals with the question what a marriage should be based on. The story expresses an opinion on marriage which is very similar to Charlotte's: One is not supposed to be happy in marriage and can't choose his partner freely as marriages are arranged by the families. Marriage isn't about romantic love but about supporting each other and interdependence. But in this story the woman is not inferior to the man because as they are both poor and their parents arranged the marriage, they are in the same situation.

A completely different example is "Romeo and Juliet" where Julia at first sight falls in love with Romeo and although their families are enemies doesn't choose to marry another man but finally even commits suicide because Romeo is dead.

There also was Jennifer in "Love Story" who is ver y emancipated and at first resists Oliver because she thinks that he is just a rich, arrogant young man from Harvard. But she changes her attitude towards him as she gets to know him better. Jennifer is another example for a modern woman who is determined that she has to love the man she marries.

Finally I think there are two main aspects which influence the woman's role in society and especially marriage. At first there is the period of time the woman lives in. If she lives before the 19th century she usually can't choose her husband because in those times most marriages are arranged by the parents (in Europe). In the 19th century women become more emancipated. But they still can't choose their husband freely because they often needed to marry well to be financially provided (as in "Pride and Prejudice"). In the 20th century however women become economically independent and can therefore now choose not to marry or only to marry if they are in love.

The second aspect is the social status and the wealth of the woman, which I've already mentioned above. If a woman can't earn enough money for her own living and the state doesn't support her, she has to marry a man to be financially taken care of. In our western society women don't have to marry for financial reasons anymore but in many poor states marriage is still the only way for women to be supported.