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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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How does Austen criticize British society in Pride and Prejudice?

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Austen criticizes society by showing the problems with the traditions and values surrounding marriage in the early nineteenth century. Elizabeth's aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, warns Elizabeth against forming an attachment to Mr. Wickham, as he has no money and neither does she—they would have nothing on which to live. However, when he appears to pursue the attentions of Miss King, a young woman who has just inherited ten thousand pounds, Mrs. Gardiner finds this to be inappropriate as well, hoping that Mr. Wickham is not being "mercenary," marrying a woman because she has money. In response to her aunt's concerns, Elizabeth says,

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? Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary.

Elizabeth points out that a person with no money who marries another person with no money is called imprudent, but a person with no money who marries a person who has money is called mercenary. What's a person to do? If one is poor, how can they be both prudent and unselfish? The restrictions placed on marriage make it untenable for many and for many reasons.

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In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen satirizes values and functioning of the British Society in several ways through her characters. Firstly, she attacks the numerous social limitations put on women and their views on marriage resulting because of these restrictions during that time. In fact, the novel begins very much with the lines that satirize this aspect.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife..."

Because of their weaker social and economic position, women often married out of reasons other than love and attraction. But marrying someone for getting financial security and economic elevation is wrong. Austen represents this by ridiculing female characters like Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennett, who accept this belief, and helps us get the sense of what is right with characters like Elizabeth and Jane, who eventually marry their object of attraction.

"I am not romantic you know. I never was, I ask only a comfortable home..."(Charlotte Lucas)


Austen also satirizes the “class system”, which was prevalent in the British Society at that time. We notice this, inter alia, in the behavior of Bingley sisters towards Jane and Elizabeth. Darcy, too, is extremely proud when it comes to his status and heritage, which also comes in between his admiration for Elizabeth who doesn’t belong to his class. Class distinction is so evident in the novel when characters with high class interact with those from the middle class. Nonetheless, Austen gives the right picture when Jane and Bingley as well as Darcy and Elizabeth marry in the end, transcending all the class constraints.



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