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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

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Composers explore the conflict between the power of the individual and the power of social norms and expectations. In your response, discuss Pride and Prejudice and ONE text of your own choosing.

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1813) explores the tension between an individual and society’s expectations, similar to Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ (1953). Individuals in both the Regency period as well as the Puritan era display conflict against society. This is shown through both Austen’s and Miller’s characters in highly patriarchal and reputation conscious societies.  

Rising patriarchy during the Regency period displays a sense of tension, particularly between female individuals and society. As seen in Pride and Prejudice, it was expected of women to comply with the demands of men. Mr Bennet exploits his power over his family by refusing to visit Mr Bingley. Mrs Bennet’s resentful tone as she states, ‘We are not in a way to know what Mr Bingley likes…since we are not to visit’ emphasises her dislike towards the patriarchal system in society that forbids women to be independent. Dominant male power is exemplified through Mr Darcy, who alike the men in society, is enabled to exhibit authority over women. Mr Darcy’s high modality as he demands, ‘All this she must possess’ shows the lack of power women have over men as they are forbidden from controlling their own actions and decisions. Austen is then able to make women out as being the gender minority in society. The Regency period shows a rising sense of pressure amongst the individual and society.

Miller explores the patriarchal tension between female individuals and society during the Puritan era, alike Austen. Parris exerts his male societal power over Tituba, seen through, ‘PARRIS: You will confess yourself or I will take you out and whip you to your death, Tituba!
TITUBA, terrified, falls to her knees’. The use of exclamation signifies the authoritative power Parris has over Tituba, mainly as she is a female. Female oppression is also shown through Parris threatening to hurt Tituba, a right he has as a male in society. The stage direction acts as a symbol, that women will always be lower than males in society. Danforth is another individual Miller uses to highlight the patriarchal tension in society. As Mary attempts to redeem herself, ‘It were pretence sir’, Danforth blatantly dismisses her, stating, ‘I cannot hear you’. Danforth’s condescending tone emphasises the insignificance women were to men and demonstrates men’s power to ignore women in society. Mr Collins, portrayed by Austen, shows similarities between Danforth, as he uses his power in society to belittle women. This is seen through Austen’s use of colloquial language, ‘Mr Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth – and it was soon done’ which emphasises the lack of power women had to voice their opinion and the power men had to do what they pleased. Lack of female power in society is demonstrated by both Miller and Austen.

Austen presents the reader with conscious individuals, who strive to uphold their reputation amongst the expectations of society. Aware of a female’s reputation, Mrs Hurst displays a sense of shock, as Elizabeth arrives at Netherfield with a muddy skirt. By the repetition of ‘wild’ as she states, ‘I shall never forget her wild appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild’.  The use of repetition along with her judgemental tone of voice is deliberately used by Austen to reveal the Mrs Hurst’s disdain and suggests the importance of reputation to women, especially those of a higher class. Despite Jane’s caring nature, she is also conscious of her reputation as well as her family’s. Through her letter to Elizabeth, she writes, ‘We are now anxious to be assured it has taken place’, regarding Lydia and Wickham’s marriage. The epistolary nature adds a sense of realism to the news, emphasising Jane’s concern for her reputation, rather than her sister’s happiness. Individuals during the Regency period display their need for a high reputation, an expectation in society.

Similar to Regency period, an individual’s concern for their reputation in society is evident in the Puritan era. Miller portrays Reverend Parris as a conscious man, always concerned for his reputation amongst society. When he recognises that his niece may be involved in the witch hunts, Parris begins to worry for his reputation in society, emphasised through his use of exclamation as he states, ‘Just now when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character!’. Only concerned for his high reputation amongst the townspeople rather than his niece, Miller’s utilisation of exclamation assists the reader in understanding how conscious Parris is about his reputation. John Proctor is another individual represented by Miller, who protects his reputation in society. When asked to confess to witch craft, Proctor resists, ‘Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life’. Miller’s use of personal pronoun accentuates Proctor’s desperation to protect his reputation as he knows it will also stain his family’s reputation amongst those in society. Austen’s representation of Lady Catherine parallels Proctor as she is also concerned for her family’s reputation amongst society. Her dominative tone of voice as she questions ‘Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?’ demonstrates her hatred towards Elizabeth, as she would ruin Pemberley’s high-class reputation in society. Both Miller and Austen depict their characters as those who are conscious of society’s views of their reputation.

Both Austen and Miller display the various conflicts individuals have in society, especially between the strong patriarchal system and the need for a high reputation.

Quotes Table

Patriarchy

Quote

Technique

Analysis

‘We are not in a way to know what Mr Bingley likes…since we are not to visit’ - Mrs Bennet

Resentful tone

 As seen in Pride and Prejudice, it was expected of women to comply with the demands of men. Mr Bennet exploits his power over his family by refusing to visit Mr Bingley. emphasises her dislike towards the patriarchal system in society that forbids women to be independent.

‘All this she must possess’ – Mr Darcy

High modality

Dominant male power is exemplified through Mr Darcy, who alike the men in society, is enabled to exhibit authority over women. shows the lack of power women have over men as they are forbidden from controlling their own actions and decisions.

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