Discuss the values presented in "Pride and Prejudice."
Austen also presents, and skewers, upper-class values that only find worth in women who are married, as this puts these women in unjust positions, which force them to choose the lesser of two evils. Consider the way Austen portrays Mrs. Bennet, a woman who is obsessed with marrying off her daughters, so obsessed that the book opens with her certainty that her newest neighbor -- whom she has never met -- would be the perfect husband for one of them. He could be a horrible person who engages in all manner of licentious behavior (he is not), but it matters not to her as long as he is willing to marry one of her girls. Mrs. Bennet irritates her husband, humiliates her most sensible daughters, and generally makes herself a nuisance throughout the book: hardly a character with whom we are supposed to sympathize or agree.
Further, she pushes Elizabeth to marry that horrid Mr. Collins, simply because it would keep Longbourn in the immediate family after Mr. Bennet's death, and because she considers Jane to already be spoken for. Elizabeth must then choose between a loveless marriage where she cannot respect her partner but which would bring her financial security, and the risk that she will become a spinster, dependent on her relations and a burden to her family. In other words, she could become Charlotte. Charlotte, Elizabeth's best friend, is several years older than Elizabeth and treacherously close to becoming a confirmed spinster. However, she sees her opportunity when Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins and Charlotte compels him to see her as a replacement for his cousin. She makes the choice Elizabeth does not: she chooses to marry a man whom she does not love and whom she knows is ridiculous so that she can avoid the embarrassment of remaining upper-class and single. Austen points out that this is hardly an appropriate choice for a woman and that this is an unjust way to value women's worth.
Austen presents many values in this novel. First of all, between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, there is upward social status for Elizabeth upon her marriage. She is able to move out of her middle class background, literally, into landed gentry. However, she does not fall in love with Mr. Darcy for his money. In fact, it is his attitude, arrogance, and wealth which turn her against him when they first meet. Thus, the importance of love over money is definitely a main value in this work. Also, the shallow values of the wealthy and their conceit is a target for Austen. In the case of Lydia, her lack of honesty in a relationship and true, heartfelt love is what is lost at the end of the day as she destroys what is good and honest. And again, the value of marriage is illustrated through the Bennetts and their long term relationship. So, I think you could say love, as a commitment between hearts and souls, honesty, integrity, and firmness of mind are the values in this work. Elizabeth becomes an icon for the thinking woman!
The central theme of the novel is the pivotal link between money, and marriage.
In Ch.26 we read that Wickham has switched his affections from Elizabeth to Miss King because she has suddenly acquired 10,000 pounds. In Ch.27 When Mrs.Gardiner teases Elizabeth that Wickham who till then was her admirer is "mercenary" Elizabeth replies:"Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin?"
Money no doubt is certainly necessary for a successful and happy marriage. But the vital question is 'how much?': In Ch.33 Col.Fitzwilliam Darcy,the younger son of an earl, a very rich charming young man, subtly hints that he cannot marry Elizabeth:"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money." to which Elizabeth playfully sugggests that his price would perhaps not be "above 50,000 pounds."
In Ch.19 Collins threatens Elizabeth to submit to his proposal by emphasizing her impoverished status:"one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to."
The novel is a heart rending cry for the freedom of young women from the clutches of mercenary men who toyed with their happiness : "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."