Pride Essay, Research Paper
In Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen, Austen uses Mr. Bennet to help develop the characters; in like manner, Austen uses Mr. Bennet to help develop the plot.
One of Mr. Bennet’s most meaningful contributions to the character development is the influence he exerts on Elizabeth. “She is obviously his favorite [daughter], and probably the only one in his family that he feels real fatherly love for” (Bowen 113). This is seen “from the fact that even though he is often very reserved and distant, the one time he shows emotion, it is directed towards her” (Bradley 12). This behavior occurs towards the end of the novel, after Darcy announces to him his intention of marriage. However, “the reader notices that Mr. Bennet is not his usual self when Lizzy walks into the library. He is not cool and composed as in other times he is present” (Brower 173), but instead is “walking around the room, looking grave and anxious” (Austen 134). As Mr. Bennet starts to speak, “it becomes clear just how much Darcy’s announcement affected Mr. Bennet” (Francis 21). Eventually, Mr. Bennet declares to Elizabeth, “My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect Mr. Darcy in life” (Austen 135); Mr. Bennet not only admits the mistake of his marriage, but also shows Lizzy enough love to her to admit that he does not want the same fate to befall her. “This [statement] is very important, [because] a man as cynical as Mr. Bennet would not usually own up to any folly this directly. Although he makes several blunders in the course of the story this is one of only two he acknowledges” (Hirsch 71). Critics have stated that such a self-infraction of his character could only be explained by the fact that he cares for Elizabeth more than he ever shows, more even than the reader ever realizes. “Taking into consideration Elizabeth’s perceptive nature the reader is made to understand the true depth of the relationship between her and her father” (Jenkins 293). To clarify, it would be impossible for her to grow up without noticing the affection that he feels, and not to benefit from it. She is, in other words, a direct derivation of her parental genes – the next improved and more modern step up in the evolution of character and abilities exemplified by her father. As previously stated, Mr. Bennet admits to two mistakes in the course of the novel. The first one he avows to is his unhappy marriage. The second, of course, is his failure in fatherly duties. “This instance is different from the other, simply because he really does not loose his composure as he discusses the subject with Elizabeth” (Schroer 84). To illustrate, the way “he chastises Kitty is vintage Mr. Bennet, full of sarcasm and hyperbole to the extent that makes his youngest daughter cry. It is obvious to the reader that he is not really going to prohibit all balls or not allow her to leave the house, and yet at the same time there is a feeling that he really has learned his lesson” (Trevor 335). Mr. Bennet realizes that there is still time to change Kitty for the better, and though his methods might not be as severe as he threatens, his fifth daughter will still benefit from them. Interestingly, “throughout this scene Mr. Bennet shows very few chinks in his armor, and his admission is very profound” (Watt 296). Not only does he display the guilt he feels for being an irresponsible and distant father but also assumes a part of the blame for the way his family has evolved. This acknowledgement is the most evident display of Mr. Bennet’s character importance to the story. “Mr. Bennet’s acknowledgment of poor fathering takes on a new light. Perhaps if Mr. Bennet has shown more love and more guidance to his three youngest children they would not be so infected with their mother’s character traits and act more amiably like their older sisters” (Bowen 112). Perhaps “had he have been more caring he would have taken Elizabeth’s advice and prohibited Lydia’s going to Brighton, thereby destroying the whole eloping scheme at the root. Truly, had he been a better father most of the unfortunate predicaments faced by his family could have been prevented, an inference, which reveals the true depth of his importance in Pride and Prejudice. Put quite simply, without a character of Mr. Bennet [portraying] the irresponsible father, Austen would have no character development” (Bradley 34). Although Mr. Bennet is imperative to the character development, it is inferior to that of the development of the plot.
Vital to the plot, Mr. Bennet is also crucial to the reader’s perception of the world that Austen is describing. “Most members of this society are greedy and mercenary, and those who are not are so entangled in their own passions that they almost never see the absurdity of the world around them” (Brower 180). Mr. Bennet is different however. While being realistic, he also takes great pleasure of observing the sad silliness of the world around him, and poking fun at it on many occasions. Mr. Bennet even states, “for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn” (Austen 75) is an expression that could be his life’s motto, as he spends most of his time in his library reading and reflecting on the failures of the realm he lives in. “In those rare moments the audience is allowed to see through Mr. Bennet’s eyes [and] the reader begins to comprehend how truly unbearable and disgusting the society around him is to man like himself – a strong, intelligent, independent man” (Francis 16). However, “if judged purely by his actions the character may be seen as somewhat of a submissive coward, [although] his words show him to be a man of great ability placed in a losing position” (Hirsch 77). “Austen has a purpose behind this set up, which goes hand in hand with this character’s importance as discussed earlier. The purpose is such that in order for Elizabeth to possess the personality that she has in the novel, there had to be an influence on her that’s counteractive to the society in which she is raised” (Jenkins 286). Her father’s influence “had to come from someone who is sufficiently close to her to make a difference, and at the same time old enough to have experience to draw on. The person also had to be positive and strong and at the same time flawed enough as to not be domineering” (Jenkins 288). All these requirements are fulfilled in Mr. Bennet. “He’s an intelligent man, disillusioned with the world he lives in and his marriage and driven into retreat by the sheer absurdity of the same” (Schroer 90). Though Mr. Bennet is a character that possesses faults by design of the author, he is also likable by that same design. “While he is often very mean to his wife in his direct making fun of her, the reader feels no pity for Mrs. Bennet because she is so fickle and shallow. Instead of feeling sorry, the reader almost feels glad that her constant stream of meaningless and some times embarrassing phrases is checked by her husband’s witty remarks and one-liners” (Trevor 354). A similar situation is created with Mr. Collins, whom Mr. Bennet is unashamedly amused by during his first call to Longbourn despite the seriousness that the visit carries. Mr. Bennet is glad that “his cousin was as absurd as he hoped” (Austen 60), and “the audience delights with him through that whole scene as he cleverly sets up Collins to make a complete fool out of himself” (Watt 299). It is a cruel endeavor, and yet still the reader stay’s on Mr. Bennet’s side readily partaking in his little sin.
So in conclusion, the use of Mr. Bennet is substantial to Austen’s development of the characters and the plot in Pride and Prejudice.