Irony In Preide And Prejudice Essay Research

Irony In Preide And Prejudice Essay, Research Paper

Pride and Prejudice and The Edible Woman: Negative Effects of the Society’s


Throughout history, society has played an important role in forming

the value and attitudes of the population. Jane Austen’s Pride and

Prejudice and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman are two novels which

exemplify the negative effects of society’s influence. Both Elizabeth

Bennet and Marian McAlpin are strong women who rebel against society’s

influences in their lives. They refuse to accept the pre-set roles and

identities handed to them. Both women realize that the individual’s needs

are not necessarily the same as what society imposes on them; they rebel

against this very society in order to gain the independence necessary to

discover what they want from life.

Society in the early 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice is

represented through Mrs. Bennet and those like her, who are of mean

understanding, little information, and uncertain temper (Austen 53). From

the beginning of the novel, society prominently displays its views on

marriage. When Mr. Bingly moves to town, Mrs. Bennet immediately entreats

her husband to go introduce himself. Mrs. Bennet describes Bingly as a

single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine

thing for our girls! (51). Bingly is immediately acceptable due to his

money and connections, and Mrs. Bennet is already dreaming that one of her

children will marry him. In fact, the business of her life was to get her

daughters married (53). One of Elizabeth’s close friends, Charlotte

Lucas, feels happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance (69).

She feels that marriage is a vehicle to gain wealth and connections, a view

which has obviously been pushed upon her by society. Elizabeth refuses to

accept this view. She feels marriage is for love, not money, and finds it a

fantastic nightmare that economic and social institutions have such

power over the values of personal relationships (Harding 167). However,

Charlotte later marries Mr. Collin and sacrifices love for worldly

advantage. Mr. Darcy also assumes everyone marries for wealth. He feels

the Bennet’s lack of money must very materially lessen their chance of

marrying men of any consideration of the world (Austen 82). Darcy is

mindful of his relationship to society, proud of his social place, and

aware of the restrictions that inevitably limit the free spirit (Litz 104).

Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth grows when she demonstrates her wit in a

conversation with him. Darcy really believed, that were it not for the

inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger (Austen 96).

He thinks he loves Elizabeth, yet he continues to degrade her on the basis

of her family’s socioeconomic situation. Society’s view of marriage is

evident through the many characters who express monetary views of the

sacred institution.

Elizabeth finally finds happiness when she takes control of her

situation and completely disregards society. After a series of events both

Darcy and Elizabeth fall in love for real. However, the two are still not

free to be together. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who represents high

society, soon pays a visit to Elizabeth and informs her that Elizabeth and

Darcy are completely unsuitable for one another. She tells Elizabeth that

to marry a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world

(364) would disgrace him in the eyes of everybody (367). Lady Catherine

does not care about her nephew, instead she is only concerned with what

everybody will think. Elizabeth, however, will not let herself be

intimidated, and refuses to promise that she will not marry Darcy. Lady

Catherine replies to Elizabeth’s defiance by asking, do you know who I am?

I have not been accustomed to such language as this (364). Hence, society

is not used to being rejected. But due to Elizabeth’s resistance to what

society dictates as her needs, she and Darcy find their way back to each

other and are betrothed. While this marriage may not be suitable in the

eyes of everyone , as Lady Catherine thinks, it is right for the two

people who matter.

Atwood’s late 20th century novel also illustrates society’s

influence on people when it comes to marriage. The office virgins hope

that after a few years of work and travel they will get married and settle

down (Atwood 15). Marian assumes she will do the same, although the

prospect is far from appealing to her. However, she holds the conventional

assumption that she must marry someone eventually and have children,

everyone does (100). Peter exemplifies the acceptable male. He is a

rising young lawyer, socially acceptable, all around popular guy. For this

reason Marian accepts Peter’s marriage proposal. She is not in love with

him, but accepts because she feels it is what she is expected to do with

her life, even if it is not what she wants. Before her engagement Marian

was self-supportive and outgoing. However, she now attempts to change

herself to fit society’s pre-set role of women. When Peter asks her a

simple question, she replies with I’d rather leave the big decisions up to

you (87). Thanks to society, not only does Marian become engaged when it

is not what she wants, but she also reverts to pre-set feminine roles that

are the exact opposite of her natural personality.

Marian proceeds to subconsciously rebel against society’s pre-set

role for her, using food as her vehicle for rebellion. The first time she

is unable to eat is the morning after accepting Peter’s proposal, when she

discovers that she is no longer able to consume eggs. At this point in the

novel there is a dramatic switch from first to third person. The viewpoint

is not that of a detached narrator; rather, Marian has resolved to view

her own actions from an external perspective (Keith 43). The next time

Marian encounters her problem is during dinner with Peter, where she

discovers that she can no longer eat meat. Her mental state becomes

progressively worse when, preparing for a dinner party, Marian begins to

visualize the vegetables as living things. As she peels a carrot, she

begins thinking of how people come along and dig it up, maybe it even makes

a sound, a scream too low for us to hear, but it doesn’t die right away, it

keeps on living, right now it’s still alive (Atwood 183). Marian believes

she is torturing the carrot, and is now unable to eat them also. Even

vitamin pills, now her main source of nourishment, become forbidden as she

wonder[s] what they grind up to put into these things (234). Finally, the

morning after her affair with Duncan, which is a rebellion in itself,

Marian is unable to eat anything at all. She finally realizes that

something must be done, and proceeds to take matters into her own hands.

Marian breaks the spell of anorexia when she finally decides to

stop trying to change herself and instead to take control of her life.

Marian loses her psychological stability in her quest to be normal. She

became engaged because it was the normal thing to do, but what was

essentially bothering her was the thought that she might not be normal

(211). Marian, for the first time, sees Peter for what he really is, not a

potential husband but a two-dimensional advertisement-clich (Keith 63),

another attempt at normal . Marian bakes a cake in the shape of a woman

and offers it to Peter, saying this is what you really wanted all along,

isn’t it? I’ll get you a fork (Atwood 284). Marian realizes that she is

being consumed by Peter. She proceeds to break off the engagement and

suddenly she was hungry. Extremely hungry (285). Marian has attained

full control of her life once more. But most importantly, the novel

returns to first-person narrative, and Marian is a complete person once

again. Marian realizes that her needs are different from what society

imposes on her, and changing herself to fit society is not the answer.

Both characters ultimately realize that they never desired the

norm of society. In Elizabeth’s case, she does not want to marry for

wealth and good connections; she wants to marry for love. After working

past initial obstacles she finds love in Darcy and proceeds to put all her

energy into attaining his love again. As for Marian, she is no where near

ready for marriage, yet due to her underlying need to be normal she tries

desperately to mold herself into a role which proves to be very destructive.

She, too, takes the control of her life away from society and puts it back

where it belongs, in her own hands. Thus rebellion is necessary in both

situations in order to fulfill the needs of the characters and restore them

to their previously healthy, happy lives.



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