Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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Consider the representations of class difference in the novel Pride and Prejudice. Is upward social mobility possible?

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I just want to add an interesting note: it turns out that Bingley's ancestors made their fortune from "trade."  You'll notice Caroline smirking about Elizabeth's uncle being an attorney in Cheapside.  Well, an attorney is in "trade" as well--he belongs to the same social class as a merchant who might get lucky and strike it rich.

It's pleasing for the reader to discover Caroline's hypocrisy, although you will only discover it by reading the novel closely.  It also shows that upward social mobility is possible, since no one seems aware of or concerned about the origin of Bingley's fortune.

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In the novel Pride and Prejudice the concept of upward mobility is  evident in the love matches of Elizabeth and Jane to Darcy and Mr. Bingley, respectively.

Although both sisters belong to a respectable family they are by no means aristocrats nor, for that matter, "fashionable" enough to be found mingling in elite social circles like Darcy's or Bingley's.

In fact, Darcy went as far as admitting that he felt that the distance in social ranking between himself and Elizabeth (as well as Bingley and Jane) was big enough for him to consider his proposal to Elizabeth a form of self-sacrifice.

Later in the story we witness a change in Darcy's views of pride and prejudice and the story ends with both couples reunited.

We also know that the lives of Elizabeth and Jane certainly improved thanks to the joys and comforts that are often associated with rich households.

Therefore, upward social mobility is possible as long as the person of rank who chooses to marry a person of lower birth is content with knowing that there will be no dowry, no fusion of family estates, and no increase in the family fortune.

That would have been a rare thing for any rich and prestigious family to accept, so it was not the norm. In any case, the benefit remains entirely on the person of lower birth who will basically be living a dream come true.

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This is a very interesting topic because while the reader would like to think that because Austen is criticizing the social class structure in England that is possible it will change, but in reality, it cannot. The social class stratifications are so entrenched that nothing is really changed by the end of the novel. A reader could look at Elizabeth and note that she "married up" in social class, and that is true, but she wasn't "upwardly mobile" by any means other than marriage and her status is based entirely on her married name, not anything of her true self.

A key element of this novel is the theme of marriage and the satire on the necessity of women to marry in order to avoid abject poverty. If women MUST marry to survive then there is no social mobility. Everything a person is in society is based on his or her family connections or on the connections to the upper classes. Collins is just a middle class minister, but his connections to Lady Catherine make him more important than he might otherwise be. On his own, he isn't likely to rise to any real status in the church. Wickham is the lowly son of servant, and the only reason he has any wealth or his position in the army is because of his connection to Darcy -- first in his original benefits and later in his acceptance of the settlement for marrying Lydia.

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