eAn individual often finds himself in a conflict with the rules of
society. Occasionally, rebelling is the path to happiness. However, usually,
the real path to happiness is through compromise. This is the case in the early
nineteenth century England setting of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. In
the novel, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a lively, independent woman, whose family’s
financial situation and whose strong mindedness suggest that she may never marry.
Mr. Darcy, is a rigid and proper man, who falls in love with Elizabeth, despite
their differences. By the end of the novel, Elizabeth and Darcy learn to
compromise, and, in doing so, become truly happy. In marrying, they not only
fulfill themselves as individual, but also affirm the principle values of
society. As in many of her novels, this marriage at the end of the novel shows
us Jane Austen’s ideal view of marriage as a social institution.
The novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen gives us the reader a
very good idea of how she views marriage, as well as society. The theme of
marriage is set in the very opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice;”It is a
truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good
fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen, 1) As Norman Sherry points out,
this is Austen’s way of implying that ‘a single man in possession of a good
fortune’ is automatically destined to be the object of desire for all unmarried
women. The statement opens the subject of the romantic novel; courtship and
marriage. The sentence also introduces the issue of what the reasons for
marrying are. She implies here that many young women marry for money. The
question the reader must ask himself is, does Jane Austen think this is moral?
Sherry shows us that Austen was not particularly romantic. She reveals these
sentiments through Charlotte remarks concerning her marriage to Mr. Collins.
“I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and
considering Mr. Collin’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am
convinced that my chance of happiness is as fair, as most people can boast on
entering the marriage state.” (Austen, 95)
Elizabeth, as Sherry points out, is not particularly romantic either, however
unlike Charlotte, Elizabeth has a certain picture of an ideal marriage in her
mind, and therefore would never marry for reasons other than love. We assume
that since Elizabeth is the main character, this is how Jane Austen sees
marriage. Since Elizabeth would not marry without love, we can also assume that
Jane Austen sees what Charlotte does as immoral. Elizabeth also feels that
marriages formed by passion alone are just as bad as marriages formed without
love.Elizabeth reflects on her sister Lydia’s marriage; “But how little
permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together
because their passions were stronger then their virtue, she could easily
conjecture” (Austen, 232) We again see reasons besides love as the reason for
marriage. Jane Austen is not very optimistic about marriage, in fact there are
almost no happy marriages in the novel at all.Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet,
Lydia and Wickham, and Charlotte and Mr. Collins are examples of the ill-matched
and unsuccessful marriages in Pride and Prejudice.
The characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are not all
miserable by the end of the novel. Happy marriages in Austen’s novels do occur.
Sherry illustrates this point. The right people eventually come together, for
example, Elizabeth and Darcy, the hero and heroine. The development of the
relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is the most important proof of the
whole overall theme of compromise. This relationship took work, it did not just
occur. Elizabeth has to learn to control her prejudices. She forms her
opinions very quickly and does not change them easily. Darcy has to learn to
evaluate people on characteristics other than social rank. He is too proud of
himself, as well as his high social class, and it affects his ability to relate
to other people. Both Elizabeth and Darcy have to change a little and come to
understand each other before they can be together.
In the novel, the theme of pride and prejudice is first introduced in
chapter three at the dance. Darcy, acting on his own pride, insults Elizabeth.
He claims that she is not handsome enough to tempt him. Elizabeth, overhearing
his insult, considers his remark as a direct stab at her