How do the roles of women in Pride and Prejudice differ from that of women today?
I agree with sherif1993 in the focus on the importance of marriage and how easily this is misunderstood today. Back in Austen´s times, really marriage was the only future for women who wanted some form of autonomy or limited independence. Obviously Mrs. Bennet is a caricature of a mother who is completely obsessed by marrying off her daughters, but it does reveal the grain of truth behind this exaggerated character by stressing the importance of marriage. This is why Charlotte Lucas was so willing to make the compromise of marrying the ridiculous Mr. Collins. To her, as a 27 year old (and thereby nearly classified a spinster without hope of marriage), Mr. Collins represented her last hope to have her own house and gain the social status that married women had at that time. Again and again in the novel, the fate of not marrying is referred to, such as when Mr. Collins rather insensitively alludes to Elizabeth maybe not having any further hopes of marriage if she refuses him. In many ways it was a brutal world for women, who had severely restricted choices and options open to them, wheras today, women can be single, can marry, can work, can have their own lives and not be censured by society.
Austen's Pride and Prejudice is customerily known as a novel of manners. The story portrays life of the gentility in a small, rural society. Austen reveals the delicate nature of a society based on a system of manners. In such a society, the well-being of everyone depends on people maintaining their proper places and behaving according to a strict code of manners. For the Bennet sisters, their chances of marriage depreciates with every show of impropriety.
From the beginning, it is important to understand the very real danger that faces the Bennet sisters if they do not marry. Upon Mr. Bennet's death, the sisters' cousin, Mr. Collins, will inherit the small Longbourn estate. That means that the family will have no source of income and no place to live.
A marriage of one of the girls to a wealthy man would provide a solution, but there is another problem, even for Jane and Elizabeth: each girl does not possess a dowry large enough to attract a prospective husband. Any man who chooses to marry a poor girl must do so for love or to acquire a good wife.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. This first line affirms a single man's job is to find a woman but only after obtaining money.
"She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me." Mr. Darcy talks of Elizabeth to Mr. Bingley about his preference of a type of woman he is interested or not interested in.
If a woman is partial to a man, and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find it out.
These quotes reveal that women and men were fixed in their social class, fixed in their gender roles, and fixed in their familial relationship with the patriarch as head of household.
These views are so different today because of contemporary family values, the belief in equality, and the spirit of the American dream that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it and work hard.
The importance of marriage in the lives of Elizabeth and her sisters may be difficult for modern readers to understand. Young woman now acquire more freedom thus having the choice to marry, live independtly, and also follow the career path that they may please.In the Nineteenth Century If the the women is unmarried,they remain dependent on the relatives and gaurdians thus they recieve a small amount of income from their fathers or other relations that may be able to support them. But in Elizabeths Case, She is extremely dependent on her father as he offers her what she needs but not only her who is dependent on him but also her her mothers and her sisters. If Mr Bennet dies, They would become under the mercy of their relatives as Mr Gardiner, Mrs Gardiner, Mr Philips, Mrs Philips, and also may be Mr Collins. As their house would be entailed to a distant relative known as the pompus Collins. Such a postion of "poverty" would be disgracful as well as Humiliating.
Women like Elizabeth, Jane, Charlotte, Lydia & others in Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice are now more than 200 years old. Apart from their ancientness, these women belonged to a semi-rural society, away from a big city like London. They were all looking for husbands & secure homes, for nothing was more respectable than a good marriage so far as such women were concerned.
The world has changed a lot in the last 200 years & to-day's women do have many more dignified options than in those days. In the field of education, employment & various other modes of identity/personality development, women have attained considerable freedom & equality with their male counterparts. The ironic truth in the explosive opening sentence of Austen's novel that a woman not in possession of good fortune must be in want of a husband is hardly a truth now-a-days.
This is not to say that a proud Darcy, or a villainous Wickham is no longer here to undermine a self-respecting Elizabeth, or tempt & elope with a foolish & flirtatious Lydia.One may still find a Charlotte, well past her age of marriage, and marrying a stupid like Collins for social-economic recognition. One can still find a jealous young woman like Caroline, or a ludicrous match-making mother like Mrs. Bennet, for certain basic human prototypes always remain in some socially mutated versions.
But, on the whole, women have many avenues to travel along other than marrying at the first instance, and that too, for the sake of money. Among all the women in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet stands apart for her self-respect & sense of maturity, and in that she definitely prefigures modern womanhood.