An important idea in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, is the relationship between the themes of reputation and class. These two themes are related in the fact that, they both reflect the strict nature of life for the middle and upper classes in Regency England.
In the society in which “Pride and Prejudice” takes place, a woman’s reputation is of the greatest importance. A woman is expected to carry herself in a particular way and possess specific mannerisms. Doing otherwise is considered stepping out of the social norms thus, making a woman susceptible to exclusion. This appears when Elizabeth walks to Netherfield and arrives with muddy skirts, and shocks Miss Bingley and her friends: “. . . her appearance created a great deal of surprise . . . she was convinced that they held her in contempt for it ” (24). Arriving in such a presentation and the fact that she has came alone in such dirty weather. Elizabeth believes that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst will treat her differently because her exterior is not that of what a woman is to represent in society. The effect that reputation has on the different class hierarchy is shown through Mrs. Bennet’s behavior which is considered ridiculous and ill mannered in society which, ultimately gives her a bad reputation, especially towards the more refined and snobbish Darcys and Bingleys. Even more so the importance of reputation comes into play when Lydia elopes with Wickham and lives with him out of wedlock: “ Imprudent as a marriage between Mr. Wickham and our poor Lydia would be we are now anxious to be assured it has taken place” (203). By Lydia living out of wedlock with Wickham and becoming his lover without the backing and benefits of marriage, places her outside of the social circle. And furthermore, her personal and individual disgrace endangers the entire Bennet family, especially her unwedded sisters.
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The lines of class just like reputation are strictly drawn between the middle and upper classes. While all of the families in these societies are generally of the wealthy kind, the borders between the two social extremities are easily blurred. Although the Bennet’s who are considered middle class may socialize with the Bingleys and Darcys, they looked at and examined socially inferior to them. The mind configuration of the female Bennet’s: “ It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (1). This quote not only opens the story but also gives the insight to the goal of the Bennet women, through Mrs. Bennet’s words, whose ultimate goal is to have her daughters marry wealthy men. In other words, furthering their social status as individuals and as a family. But, this mindset is shared with many characters throughout the book. Mr. Darcy who believes in the dignity of his lineage; Miss Bingley, who dislikes anyone that is not socially accepted as she is, and Wickham who will do anything he can to get enough money to raise his social status. Thus, in turn while these so-called individuals are supposed to be considered superior. Are actually, inferior due to their closed-minded thoughts, goals, judgements, and self-absorption.
In the end the restrictions that reputation and the class hierarchy place on the society as a whole and the lovers, are ultimately conquered by true and absolute love. Leading to the happy ending of the story. Darcy puts aside his pride and prejudices towards Elizabeth and they marry, and Jane marries Bingley. Thus, showing that when senseless restraints are placed on people, it takes an action so powerful and meaningful, such as love to overcome and break down that obstacle of limitations.
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