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Society's Constraints in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Society's Constraints in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Jane Austen has much to say about the society in which she lives, and
where her characters live. Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins are two
characters who demonstrate, through their actions and outlook on life,
the social and educational constraints of their society that prevent
them from making their way in the world.

Social constraints play an important role in the life of women in this
society. Not only do women have to marry, but also marry someone who
is of their social class. A "poor" marriage, that is one to a
different class, can ruin the reputation of the whole family. In
analyzing Charlotte's "strategic" and almost desperate marriage to Mr.
Collins, one can see how little freedom women in this society have.
Marriage is not an option; it is a necessity. Women are expected to
marry while still in their late teens or early twenties to a man,
preferably wealthy, and of good standing in society. If that type of
marriage is not attainable, then the girl is doomed to a life of
poverty and despair. Reputation and wealth are two forces that drive
the Bennett family. Without a suitable marriage, the Bennett girls
will not be able to count reputation or wealth as their blessings.

Charlotte's choice to marry Mr. Collins also reveals how little
education young women of this time receive; girls are educated in
proper, "cultured" behavior, and perhaps some literature…nothing more.
This lack of a real education leaves women few options as far as a
profession, other than a governess. If a woman cannot earn a living,
the only other option is marriage. Lack of education also leads to
another problem: without knowledge, a woman cannot forge her own path,
and make her own way in the world. In this time period, men are
expected to be educated, charming, and handsome; however, women are
only there to look pretty and please their husbands. This warped
"purpose" of women leads to a great lack of opportunity for women,
both educationally and marriage-wise.

Mr. Collins's great need to marry any woman shows society's
expectations and constraints. Mr. Collins is a pious man, of little
social standing. To be more socially acceptable, he needs to marry
someone who was of a higher social standing than he is. After
Elizabeth rejects him, Mr. Collins comes upon someone who is just as
desperate to be socially acceptable as he is: Charlotte. Charlotte,
though quite poor, is of a higher social standing: her father is a
knight. Mr. Collins's marriage also shows how it is virtually
impossible, even more an educated man like Mr. Collins, to make his
own way in the world outside of marriage. In this society, marriage is
the only way to become greater. Mr. Collins may have been educated,
but in choosing to become a member of the clergy, he still needs to
find someone to marry. His landlady, Lady Catherine, is of good social
standing and pressures him to find a wife. This proves that for men,
even education cannot totally make them respectable in society; a
respectable marriage is the ideal.

As one can see, the lives of characters in Pride and Prejudice are
dominated by social constraints, which inhibit their ability to forge
their own path in the world.

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