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Use of Satire in Pride and Prejudice
Satire is used in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen to show the deficiencies in morals and ethics of the characters that Austen disapproves of. Satire is used to "attack" characters and to bring about change. The different characters types she satirizes are "suck-ups," hierarchical, and/or ignorant.
Austen disapproves of Mr. Collins and that is why she attacks and satirizes him. Mr. Collins is a "suck-up." His living with Lady Catherine has caused him to demoralize himself. He thinks and talks highly of people higher than himself, such as, Lady Catherine DeBourgh. An example of this is when they were invited to dine with Lady Catherine DeBourgh and Mr. Collins then tells Elizabeth,
"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about / your apparel. Lady Catherine is far form requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and / daughter. I would advise you merely to put on whatever / of your clothes is superior to the rest / ...she likes to have the distinction of rank preserved" (137 Austen).
This shows how high he thinks Lady Catherine is and this sort of shows that he thinks he's sort of better than her by implying that she doesn't have an elegant dress. Another example of him "sucking-up" is when Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy at the ball. After introducing himself and making a "speech," Mr. Darcy "replied with an air of / distant civility / ...and Mr. Darcy's contempt / seemed abundantly increasing with the length of his / second speech" (85 Austen). When Mr. Collins returned to Elizabeth, he told her "Mr. Darcy seemed much / pleased with the attention" (85 Austen). Mr. Collins is so thickheaded that he didn't notice Mr. Darcy's contempt towards him. When Mr. Bennet commented on Mr. Collins letter, Mr. Bennet said that Mr. Collins letter contained a "mixture of servility / and self importance" (56 Austen). This is why Mr. Collins is also a fop. A fop is someone who sees himself/herself as much more sophisticated and well liked than they really are. He continually brags about his "so-called" friendship with Lady Catherine DeBourgh.
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."..It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy to your / acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would / be any other than highly undesirable. My situation in life, / my connections with the family of DeBourgh, and my / relationship to your own, are circumstance highly in my / favor" (94 Austen).
Living with people higher than him on the social ladder has started to make him think that he's higher than most people. Mr. Collins shows more of his arrogance when he learns of Lydia running off to elope with Mr. Wickham because he sends a letter to the Bennets saying that they have a "faulty degree of indulgence" (246 Austen). Even though he is right about the Bennets, this letter still shows his arrogance. Austen satirizes Mr. Collins because people shouldn't demoralize themselves for the sake of people higher than them on the social ladder of society. People shouldn't think that they are better than most people because thinking that doesn't make you better, it makes you worse. People like this needs to be changed.
The highest person on the social ladder mentioned in the book is Lady Catherine DeBourgh. Jane Austen also disapproves of her. Lady Catherine is demanding and thinks that she can order whomever she wants around. An example of this is when she visits Elizabeth after hearing the rumor that Mr. Darcy was to propose to her. Lady Catherine thinks she and people like her are better than everyone because she says to Elizabeth "I know [the rumor] it must be a scandalous falsehood" (294 Austen). She accuses Elizabeth of trying to get Mr. Darcy from the beginning. "Your arts and allurements may, in / a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he / owes to himself and all his family" (295 Austen). When Elizabeth replied with a "smart-aleck" comment, Lady Catherine DeBourgh says, "Miss Bennet, do you know who I am?" (295 Austen). What she means by this is that Elizabeth shouldn't talk back to her because she is one of the highest people on the social ladder. When Lady Catherine DeBourgh was "interrogating" Elizabeth, she demands Elizabeth to promise no to marry Mr. Darcy if he proposes. Lady Catherine thinks she can order whomever she wants just because she is high and mighty. Ordering servants around is a lot different from ordering other people around because servants work for you and other people don't. These are reasons why she needs to be changed.
Another foolish woman that is also satired is Mrs. Bennet. She is infatuated with getting her daughters married. That is her only goal in life. She doesn't care about her daughters' happiness as long as they get married to someone who has a substantial about of money and property. This goal of hers almost cost one of her daughters her life, Jane Bennet. When Jane was going to go visit the Bingleys, her mom wouldn't let her take the carriage because she said, "You had better go on horseback, / because it seems likely to rain and you must stay all / night" (28 Austen). Her plan worked too well because instead of just getting a cold, Jane had a fever, and when Mrs. Bennet learned of this, she was so happy. She said, "As long as she stays there, it is all very well" (29 Austen). Also, when Mrs. Bennet learned that Lydia had gotten married to Mr. Wickham, she was so joyful. She was blinded by the fact that one of her daughters got married that she didn't see the pain Lydia caused for the rest of her family and she was also blinded to the fact of how much it cost to get Mr. Wickham to marry Lydia. Mrs. Bennet was right in the part where she wants her daughters to marry someone with money and land. These are valuable assets to a successful marriage, but happiness of the people in the marriage is also important. This is why Austen satirizes her.
Austen uses satire against characters with deficient characteristics. One of these characteristics is ignorance. Austen attacks characters, such as, Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet, which all have deficient characteristics. The first sentence of this novel, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man / in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" (1 Austen) establishes Austen's reason for satirizing the characters in this novel.