Sexist stereotypes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice can be described as a romantic novel that was written by Jane Austen. The novel is set in nineteenth-century rural England with its plot revolving around Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. In the novel, the later attempts to convince Mr. Bennet to pay a visit to a wealthy bachelor who had recently moved in the neighborhood. On arrival at the residence, the Bennet’s pay Bingley a visit, after which he is invited to a ball at a local assembly hall that was to be attended by the entire neighborhood (Austen 6).

At the ball, Bingley becomes a popular guest due to his cheerful and approachable nature. Bingley is drawn towards Jane Bennet and dances with her while his friend refuses to dance Jane’s younger sister. Later on, Caroline, Bingley’s sister, invites Jane for dinner and on her way to Netherfield. Mr. Darcy is later attracted to Elizabeth after the later arrives at Netherfield to visit her elder sister. The plot is characterized by a series of events that unfold, leading to the eventual marriage of Elizabeth, Jane, and Lydia to Darcy, Bingley, and Wickham (Austen 14). From the complex relations between the various characters in the book, it is clear that the plot reinforces sexist stereotypes of women.

The assertion that the novel supports sexist stereotypes of women can be seen through the theme of marriage. Marriage as a motif and concern in the novel is reflected from the first line of the novel, which announces, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen 3). Marriage comes out in the novel as a pressing concern and particularly for the female characters such as Charlotte and the Bennet daughters. Women are not given a significant role other than getting married.

The novel also stresses on the suggestion that it is only through marriage that the women can obtain economic stability and independence. Nothing is said about a woman’s status where she works or independently sustains a living. The future of a woman, as reflected in the novel, entirely relies on the man they marry through whom they also defined (Wang, Xueqing, and Liu 67). It is also, only through marriage, that women were allowed to move beyond the frontiers of their birth families. With marriage being a huge milestone in a woman’s life, the marriageability of

a woman is determined by chastity.

Women are also compelled by society to compromise their standards so that they can avail themselves of marriage. Elizabeth, in the novel, comes out as a strong woman with integrity. While this comes out as good qualities that women in society should be encouraged to demonstrate, it is regarded in the novel as a weakness. The weakness in Elizabeth’s integrity stems from the fact that she may miss out on someone to marry her (Birk, Hanne, & Gymnich 56). Due to her integrity, Elizabeth believes that while society pressures her to get married and achieve financial security. Instead of being encouraged by her mother for her good quality, she is shunned and persuaded to lower her standards so that she can get married. However, Mrs. Bennet perceives integrity and self-respect as rigidness or stubbornness.

One reckless choice from a woman could destroy the entire life of the woman. It can be seen through Darcy and Lydia, whose careless choice of trusting the wrong man could potentially ruin their prospects. When Lydia elopes, for example, Lizzy exclaims in fear stating that “she is lost forever” (Austen 42). It is an insinuation that the former’s reputation will be destroyed in the event that she decides to live with Wickham without being officially married to him. The statement thus supports the concept that a woman’s reputation was only defined in marriage.

The sexist concept in Pride and Prejudice is also emphasized through the theme of family. Family plays an integral part as all the characters are made to operate within the connections of their family network. Females in the novel are not only defined by the profile of their families but are also used as tools of expanding their family’s horizons. The Bennet sisters, for example, are viewed not for whom they are as persons but for the status of their families. The men, on the other hand, are instead for what they do and possess. The primary business of Mrs. Bennet in the entire novel is also getting her daughters married (Wang, Xueqing, and Liu 67). Therefore, the novel promotes on the sexist stereotype that the woman should keep her family interests ahead of hers.

The sexist stereotype is also seen through the characters. It is evident from the plot that the negative traits of female characters are more emphasized than those of men. Similarly, the positive and desirable traits of women are overlooked while those of men highlighted. Lydia Bennet, for example, is developed as a promiscuous character with little regard for morality while Mrs. Bennet comes out as an opportunistic scheming lady whose main role is marrying off  her daughters so that they can amass wealth from well-to-do families (Xiaoping 678). Mr. Darcy, despite his spiteful comments towards Elizabeth during their first meeting, comes out in the end as a positive character. Mr. Bingley, on the other hand is given an admirable character from the beginning, while Elizabeth, despite her behavior, is portrayed as stubborn and choosy.

In conclusion, while the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, is used in developing a moral message, that it is good to maintain integrity and self-respect amidst social pressures, a significant part of the plot in its various elements is the reinforcing of sexist stereotypes. The plot, in many ways, has directly or indirectly uplifted the man above the woman. The concept of marriage and family despite being critical aspects of a society have been used in suppressing the woman in the novel stressing on the suggestion that it is through them that a woman can attain dignity.