What quotes could be used to argue Pride and Prejudice is an analysis and criticism of traditional class and social distinctions? What mode of organizing society does Austen offer in lieu of stultified and often unjust class markers?

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Many quotes show Pride and Prejudice to be an analysis and criticism of traditional class distinctions. Two follow, and I strongly suggest looking at well as Elizabeth's impassioned response to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when that grand dame comes to tell Elizabeth that she is not good enough for Darcy.

In the first quote, Austen is being ironic: she does not, in fact, think of the Bingley sisters as "very fine ladies." She is using a superficial, outward, and searing description of what a "fine lady" is to outline that the sisters are in fact spiteful, shallow, conceited people who put on airs because they have money:

They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others.

In the second quote, Elizabeth shows that she is mortified by her friend Charlotte making what, in the eyes of conventional society, is a very fine match to a gentleman who has a good living as a clergyman and will inherit an estate that will add to his fortune:

but she could not have supposed it possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte, the wife of Mr. Collins, was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself, and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.

Elizabeth's strong feeling that Charlotte's sensible, worldly, status-enhancing match is a disgrace because Mr. Collins is a jerk points to the alternative mode Austen envisions for organizing society. In Austen's moral universe, a just and healthy society would be organized to reward and celebrate the inner worth of human beings, not what they wear or how much money or how many titles they have. Instead, kindness, compassion, intelligence, good sense, and wit would matter most in ranking them.

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Pride and Prejudice is an analysis and criticism of traditional class distinctions because Mr. Darcy, as a member of the upper class, is supposed to marry an upper-class woman, such as Caroline Bingley. Although Caroline Bingley is eager to marry Mr. Darcy, Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth Bennett, the novel's protagonist. Austen makes it clear Darcy and Elizabeth belong together even though they are from different class backgrounds (Elizabeth's middle-class family has very little money, especially because she is one of five girls). For example, in Chapter 50, after denying her feelings for Darcy, Elizabeth admits,

It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.

In other words, although they are from different classes, Elizabeth and Darcy are perfect for each other. Elizabeth's vivaciousness can soften Darcy, and he can offer her culture and knowledge. She likes his house, Pemberley, and her appreciation of his taste and their similar interests, such as reading, implies that they are well suited. Instead of marrying based on class, Austen suggests people should marry based on similar interests and compatible personalities. 

One way you might start this paper is to look for quotes related to the three couples who marry — Elizabeth and Darcy; Jane and Bingley; and Lydia and Wickham. Jane and Elizabeth, Austen suggests, have happy unions, while Lydia does not. What makes Jane and Elizabeth's marriages happy, while Lydia's is not? This might help you organize your paper. Also, pemberley.com (see the link below) is a great source of information about Jane Austen and her works. 

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