In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, what humor is found in Mr. Collins' proposal to Elizabeth?
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Collins is Austen’s most comical character and Austen places him at the top of her hierarchy of idiocy. Collins’ proposal is meant to produce a comical scene between him and Elizabeth as opposed to being a very important part of the plot development. Darcy’s proposal however, is one of the major plot developments and is delivered in an entirely different style, suggesting to the reader that it is an important and meaningful event.
Mr Collins’ proposal is one of the most humorous points in the novel. Even before he starts his proposal, Mr Collins shows himself to be a very unromantic man. Before asking Elizabeth for her consent to marriage, he asks for the approval of her mother. This was unromantic, but in Austen’s time it was considered polite to ask for the parents’ permission to propose first.
Characteristic of all of Jane Austen's work, Mr. Collins' proposal to Elizabeth is full of witty irony. The first instance of irony is that Mr. Collins mistakes Elizabeth's unwillingness to be left alone with Mr. Collins and her attempts to hide her embarrassment and humor at the situation through distracting herself with work as "modesty."
The second instance of irony is that his real reason for wanting to marry is that Lady Catherine de Bourgh advised him to. He states his first and second reasons for wanting to marry as that it is his duty as a clergyman and that it will increase his happiness, but the third reason concerning Lady Catherine he states that he should have mentioned earlier, insinuating that, really, it is his first reason.
A third instance of irony is that he assumes that Lady Catherine will accept Elizabeth's "wit and vivacity," and moreover that Elizabeth will "temper" both these things with "the silence and respect" due to Lady Catherine's rank. This is a huge ironic assumption for Mr. Collins to make because of course we have never seen Elizabeth hold her tongue or "temper" her "wit and vivacity."
A final instance of irony is that Mr. Collins is quick to assume that Elizabeth's refusal is a way of her being modest and that all modest young ladies refuse at first the men they intend to accept. Mr. Collins ironically interprets Elizabeth's refusal speech as encouragement and says he hopes for a more positive answer when he asks her again.
Mr.Collins’ proposal of marriage to Elisabeth is a perfect example of satire in literature. Actually, Jane Austen achieves to render the character of Mr. Collins nonsensical by using humour to mock and criticize. We may also say that the target of criticism is the very institution of marriage. In this case, as the Bennet's estate is entailed to Mr. Collins, he becomes a potential suitor to any of the sisters Bennet.
Mr. Collins wishes a wife as it shows in:
“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right think for every clergyman in easy circumstances(like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish.”
We see here that Mr. Collins has a perfect reason to look for a wife, but in which way this affects Elisabeth? The situational irony works here in that Elisabeth had better to marry him to ensure her father’s estate. In fact, Mr. Collins seems almost generous when he declares:
"But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father…I could not satisfy myself without resolving to chuse a wife from among his daughters…”
Once again, we have another example of irony: Mr. Collins misjudges Elisabeth’s good sense. Thus, although Elisabeth firmly discourages her cousin’s good intentions, he goes on, alleging that young ladies do reject a proposal of marriage twice or even three times.
Conclusion, the passage generates a comic effect in that Mr. Collins goes on insisting, ignoring all sense of ridiculousness. Furthermore, this passage is relevant to reveal the comic character of Mr. Collins- what he says, openly demonstrates his unreasonableness.
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