Social Stereotyping in Pride and Prejudice
Social class refers to the hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups in societies or cultures. Usually individuals are grouped into classes based on their economic positions and similar political and economic interests within a culture. In Pride and Prejudice, the upper class is distinct and separate from the middle class. Members of either class tend to stereotype the other class based on first impressions and lack of knowledge. Resistance to accept socially a member of another class causes serious problems in love. Elizabeth and Darcy’s stereotype of another class keeps their love from growing while Lydia and Wickham simply ignore other people’s views in order to be together. Bingley and Jane are innocent victims of social stereotyping. They love each other despite social class until they are forced to be separated. Irrational social bias is a roadblock on the path to true love for most of the relationships in Pride and Prejudice. Social stereotyping in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is evident in the relationships of Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Lydia and Wickham, and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bennet and their daughters. Social stereotyping is shown the most in Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bennet does not seem to care when other people stereotype her middle class but she continuously stereotypes the upper class. For example, when Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, is sick, Lizzy walks over a mile to visit her at Netherfield. When she arrives, the hem of her dress is covered with mud. Mr. Bingley’s sister is repulsed by the sight but Elizabeth only thinks about the health of her sister (Austen 33). According to McCormack, “Elizabeth Bennet is clever and well-mannered; however, she comes from a poor, unruly, ill-mannered family” (1). Society, the upper class in particular, stereotypes Elizabeth because of the way her family acts, when in truth, Elizabeth is nothing like the rest of her family. Elizabeth’s family and social class are two of the main reasons why Darcy has a hard time admitting his feelings for her. However, Darcy is not the only one that stereotypes. Elizabeth also stereotypes the upper class. A critic states “Elizabeth’s initial prejudice against Darcy is rooted in pride of her own quick perceptions” (Verma 3). Elizabeth thinks the upper class is full of rude and insensible people who only think about their money and land. Elizabeth’s stereotyping keeps her from seeing what Darcy is truly like. Darcy is a highly misunderstood, upper class land owner. Kneedler believes “Mr. Darcy’s own first movement toward Elizabeth embodies the sexiest view that he is a good catch who has only to choose and be accepted, that no matter how he has insulted any women, she will be happy either to dance with or marry him whenever he can force himself to ask” (3). When Darcy rejects Elizabeth’s offer to dance, she starts to stereotype him as just another snobbish, rich person. Unfortunately, Darcy does nothing to prove her wrong, so her dislike for him grows. Darcy is actually so rude because he is trying to fight his feelings for her. Howard says “Darcy is proud of his social class and is prejudice against the Bennet family’s improper conduct and connections to the working class” (xxvi). Darcy’s admission to himself that he is in love with Elizabeth is almost impossible for him because of her social standing and her family. Throughout the novel, Darcy starts to show his true feelings for Elizabeth and she begins to realize that she may also be in love with him. Porterfield believes “Elizabeth possesses brains, beauty, musical talent, confidence, and rare independence” (5). When Darcy realizes what Elizabeth has to offer he overcomes his disapproval of the middle class and is finally able to tell Elizabeth how he feels. Austen writes, “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feeling will not be repressed. You must allow me to...
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