Class Rigidity and Social Mobility

Topics: Sociology, Social stratification, Social class Pages: 4 (1511 words) Published: December 4, 2013
In late eighteenth and early nineteenth century England there was a sort of moral ‘code’ of behavior and standards that are to be maintained by the middle and upper classes of society. Austen realistically mirrors this ‘code’ through the characters and plots of her novels while showing that social flexibility was narrow and class boundaries were strict. The topics of class stringency and social mobility are important areas in Jane Austen’s literature. We begin to see that Austen is not a revolutionary as she supports and preserves the morals and customs of societies hierarchy. However she often encourages and backs the emergence of new wealth permitting greater social mobility. In Austen’s world the naval and ‘tradesmen’ professions are means by which it is acceptable for peoples to advance their social situations. In Persuasion and Emma, we witness class rigidity as well as class mobility. Characters in the Navy and those who are newly risen from or ‘in trade’ have obtained fortune enough to become accepted into society’s upper classes, which suggests that Austen allows some flexibility in her hierarchy. But, in Austen’s world there are ‘rules’ and limitations to social acceptance and Sir Walter Elliot and Mrs. Clay, and Mr. Elton are reprimanded for overstepping their ‘bounds’. Wealth is then the most principal determining factor of social standings and ‘suitable’ matches. With wealth in mind Austen is traditional in her respect for class stability, but she recognizes the benefits of larger social flexibility with new wealth. Austen uses irony and success of the navy and ‘tradesmen’ to show the advantages that new wealth has on social mobility. Sir Walter takes great offense to the naval profession and speaks, I have [...] strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of [...]. A man is in greater...

Cited: Austen, Jane. Persuasion. London: Penguin Group, 2003.
Austen, Jane. Emma. Naples: Trident Press International, 2001.
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