Question: Satire in Pride and Prejudice.
Satire is the use of irony and humor to criticize the poorer aspects of society. “Pride and Prejudice” is considered Jane Austen’s most valuable novel, not only for its cherished love story but also for its exceptional use of satire. A satire is a literary device used to criticize the corruption and irrationality of an individual or society. To achieve the desired effect by using satire, humor, and irony are applied together. For many writers, the goal of satire is to point out these issues for the betterment of society. Austen has used satire to provide a social critique of love, class, and the position of women in society in 18th century England. Let’s take a closer look at the satire in the novel.
Satirizing love and marriage
Love is heavily satirized in the novel. Austin uses Mrs. Bennet and Charlotte Lucas to mock love. Mrs. Bennet is a trivial woman who is prone to fainting spells. Her goal in life is to find suitors for her daughters and she will never stop. More importantly, the way she treats love is shallow. She sees love as the ultimate goal of a woman’s existence and nothing more. For example, upon hearing that Bingley is coming to town, Mrs. Bennet starts plotting to introduce her daughters to Bingley so that they could fall in love. She tells Mr. Bennett;
”Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
Mr. Bennet doesn’t see the need for urgency, but Mrs. Bennet may only think of romance and love. She thinks that love is as simple as standing in front of a person and looking beautiful. Austen uses Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with romance to show the lack of involvement of women in society without romantic effort. Although Jane Austen does not say this outwardly, she may be suggesting that women are much more interested in appearing before men for marriage.
Austen uses Charlotte’s character to further satirize the behavior of love in society. Charlotte decides to marry Mr. Collins because she is not in love, but needs a place to stay. For example, Austen wrote;
”Miss Lucas (Charlotte), who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment was gained.”
Thus, Austen criticizes marriage as a tool that women must use to preserve their social status or way of life. Love is not pure and Austen is incredibly sarcastic and makes it very clear as she reveals the line of Charlotte’s story.
Satirizing rank and class
Austen does not think too much about class structure, and this is evident in her experiments throughout Pride and Prejudice. The most turbulent exploration of the class comes between Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine. Elizabeth Bennett comes from a middle-class family, while Lady Catherine is a wealthy upper-class woman. Lady Catherine emphasizes the need to show social differences between different classes of families. For example, before meeting Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins advises Elizabeth in the following way;
”Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest–there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.”
In such a flattering way, Mr. Collins unfolds that Lady Catherine would prefer that Elizabeth should wear a less fashionable dress because only Lady Catherine has the right to wear fashionable clothes since she belongs to a high-income family. Thus, the tone of the statement comes as irrational, which contributes to the criticism of Austin’s social class. Furthermore, Austen points out that class is only an external element of identity in relation to the futility of fashion.
Satirizing women’s position
Given that the novel “Pride and Prejudice” follows the romantic lives of a handful of women, it is not surprising that Austen is making a social critique of the position of women in society. Women cannot inherit property, and it is not acceptable in 18th century England to live without a husband or a chaperone. Thus, women need men to survive in this world, but they are also expected to work for the benefit of men. Throughout the novel, Austen satirizes the passive attitude of women in society through the dialogue of men. For example, Mr. Collins tells Mrs. Bennet that it would be best if Elizabeth returns her marriage proposal because;
‘‘I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state.”
Mr. Collins does not want to marry a woman who is stubborn or a hindrance to his happiness. He does not want to marry a woman with his own mind, but a woman who obeys all the rules of conduct and serves her husband. The tone of this passage is both ridiculous and serious, which allows it to act as a satire. Austen strongly describes Mr. Collins’ attitude towards Elizabeth’s personality, that women were in a lower position than men in her time. Austen criticizes the behavior of women as props or tools who are supposed to do nothing but please their husbands.
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” sharply mocks social issues such as love, class, and a woman’s position in society. Austen uses dialogue and character to create a social critique of these issues. She uses Mrs. Bennett, Charlotte, Elizabeth, Lady Catherine, and Mr. Collins to point out potential problems with current social norms, classes, and positions to bring about change in society. From this point of view, this novel is a novel of manners.