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"Pride and Prejudice" takes place a bit prior to the Industrial Revolution. Jane Austin's portrayal of women in the novel reflects what it meant to be a woman during that time.
The book has a myriad of different women in the novel. Many of them are poor, but Austin does include women that are fairly well off. Not crazy wealthy, but not paupers either. Sort of middle class, even though a true middle class doesn't quite exist yet. The personalities of these women run the gamut as well. Regardless though, Austin shows each woman as having one thing in common due to societal structuring. Each woman is strongly encouraged to bind herself to a man and get married. Marrying for love was not the main factor, either. Poorer women and those not independently wealthy worked hard to find a husband who allowed for upward mobility. A woman was supposed to marry a man who had more wealth than her current family. From there, the woman's job was to be arm candy. Look good, be polite, be a good hostess, keep her opinions to herself, etc. Austin illustrates this standard role of women with the Bennet family. After Mr. Bennet dies, Mrs. Bennet feels the need to hurry up and get her daughters married off to the right kind of men. The kind of men who can support her daughters.
Despite the societal role of women portrayed in the novel, Austin does great work showing that the women of the time are not mindless automatons who are content to sit back and be their husband's trophy. Elizabeth is intelligent and fiercely independent. Jane, on the other hand, is reserved and gentle. She is pretty and socially acceptable. She is what men want, with one exception: she is poor. Lydia is wild and impulsive and doesn't hold to all of the social conventions. Mary is very "bookish" and is perfectly content that way. What Austin is showing through these four women is that women are diverse people. They should be cherished members and contributors to society and not relegated to only being commodities to be married off.
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