Lesikar 1
Sarah Lesikar
Nature and Nurture and Pride and Prejudice
For generations, Jane Austen has captivated the attenti...
Lesikar 2
social station. The nature versus nurture debate conveniently examines the validity of
this assumption with a ba...
Lesikar 3
having children in their younger years, then focused on the younger ones, and as a whole,
generally preoccupied ...
Lesikar 4
mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper”(Austen 5). She is always
running around in a fit o...
Lesikar 5
and her pride permeates her every interaction. In describing her, the narrator says,
“whatever she said was spok...
Lesikar 6
the dismantling of her society’s structure. Austen may be critiquing society, but she also
understands the way i...
Lesikar 7
need of good character; thus, they are excellent subjects for observation on this topic.
Miss Bingley is a super...
Lesikar 8
In conclusion, it seems that Austen offers a unique reconcilable critique for
society regarding their understand...
Lesikar 9
Deresiewicz, William. "Community and Cognition in Pride and Prejudice." ELH. 64.2
(1997): 503-35.
Duckworth, Als...
Lesikar 10
of 10

Pride and Prejudice paper

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Transcripts - Pride and Prejudice paper

  • 1. Lesikar 1 Sarah Lesikar Nature and Nurture and Pride and Prejudice For generations, Jane Austen has captivated the attention of the public. Her witty humor and lively characters draw in readers, while her illustration of timeless societal issues and complexities holds the attention of the readers and scholars alike. And yet, after over 200 years of conversation, there still remains much to be said for what her novels intend to convey about society. While countless scholars have used their own “two bits” to pen innumerable pages on the subject, I believe that a unique understanding is revealed when one examines Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in terms of modern psychology. Although it was surely never Austen’s explicit intent, the examination of Pride and Prejudice from a psychological perspective suggests that her characters highlight flaws in the Regency period’s class system by examining the influences of nature and nurture on a person’s character. This critical perspective is demonstrated best in three pairs of individuals: Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Caroline Bingley, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, and Mrs. Bennet and Lydia Bennet. Pride and Prejudice is novel that tells the story of the Bennet sisters and their misadventures in the art of marriage. The main character, Elizabeth Bennet watches her older sister Jane almost lose her perfect match and her youngest sister Lydia fall into the snare of an ill-meaning suitor. All the while, Elizabeth herself is unknowingly the object of two men’s advances, both of which she initially refuses before discovering the true character of the latter, Mr. Darcy, whom she ultimately accepts. This novel is set in the Regency period, and in my opinion, it illustrates a class system founded on the idea that a person’s lineage instills in their nature certain qualities suiting them for their inherited
  • 2. Lesikar 2 social station. The nature versus nurture debate conveniently examines the validity of this assumption with a basic question; do genes (nature) or environment (nurture) determine who someone becomes? An examination of society in Pride and Prejudice shows it is reasonable to deduce that Austen depicts a society that justifies the relative rigidity of the class system with the idea that one’s birth, or nature, qualifies them for their position in that class system. Austen depicts a society that justifies its class system’s rigid nature, because it believes that nature, or one’s birth, offers inherent qualifications for position in life. This is especially clear in the practice of primogeniture. This is a practice in Regency period society that honors the eldest son with the family’s inheritance. The inheritance is not received because of any outstanding qualities on the son’s part, but because birth order demands that it be so. Colonel Fitzwilliam, for example, is the youngest son of an earl and is left without a fortune, despite his gentle and unassuming good manners and his aristocratic lineage. He himself admits, “There are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money”(Austen 151). Austen critiques this understanding of nature that leads to customs like primogeniture, and, while not rejecting the class system, offers a different interpretation of nature and nurture in regards to the issues that class presents. Upon analysis of the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, there seems to be a unique critique of this strict class system and a unique perspective on the influence of nature. Growing up, they both received only the education they pursued for themselves, and their parents seem to have had limited influence in molding them. Their father is depicted as a recluse in his library. Their mother was probably preoccupied with
  • 3. Lesikar 3 having children in their younger years, then focused on the younger ones, and as a whole, generally preoccupied with her silly nonsense. As such, these eldest Bennet girls are somewhat untouched by nurture’s influence and the reader is able to examine their character as the products of nature. The result, despite social class and family line, is two very well adjusted admirable girls. Jane is pure hearted and could “take the good of every body's character and make it still better”, and Elizabeth is a witty though sometimes critical girl who the audience grows to love through the course of Austen’s novel. By the conclusion of the novel, both of the sisters go on to enter into very advantageous marriages (Austen 13). Jane and Elizabeth demonstrate that, contrary to society’s assumptions, nature is not dependent upon social class. The two are an isolation of nature, and yet, are inherently qualified for higher places in society despite their rank at birth, not because of it. Jane and Elizabeth are products of nature and come from a relatively low class family. Austen critiques her society when, despite what society’s reason might dictate, she gives them both delightful natures, and, as a result, they move up in rank. Austen’s use of characters offers the critiques that class at birth does not determine quality of nature, nor should it determine class for the rest of one’s life. Instead, those qualified by superior natures, such as Jane and Elizabeth Bennet should be allowed to move up in society. While Jane and Elizabeth are middle class with a nature that qualifies them for higher places in life, Austen recognizes this is not always the case. Mrs. Bennet and Lydia claim the same original position in life as Elizabeth and Jane, and yet their situations and personalities are far from equal. Mrs. Bennet is described as “a woman of
  • 4. Lesikar 4 mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper”(Austen 5). She is always running around in a fit of emotion, complaining about her nerves when she is discontented. Mrs. Bennet is also characterized by a want of decorum. She seems always to be making a fool of herself and her family. Dussinger describes Mrs. Bennet as a woman who “may be counted upon to articulate what polite conversation rules out”(Dussinger 122). This recognizes that Mrs. Bennet is not restrained by manners. As such, Mrs. Bennet reveals her true nature, and it is much less impressive than that of Jane and Elizabeth. She isn’t rewarded with high class in the face of her unqualified nature, but Austen allows her to remain where she is. Lydia Bennet is very much like her mother in that she too is silly, thoughtless, and flirtatious, in addition to fiscally irresponsible. Dennis Allen describes her in his article “No Love for Lydia” as a girl who acts on “emotions and desires” as “impulses of nature” (Allen 430). Because Lydia never received a proper education from her mother, her behavior reveals her true nature, which is far from satisfactory. Unlike her mother, Lydia is punished by the end of the novel with an unhappy marriage and near destitution. Austen is not implying that all middle class citizens could be worthy of high-ranking positions. Mrs. Bennet and Lydia illustrate that it is very much possible for those of middle class to have natures that match their class, and even sink below it. Again, there is the demonstration that one’s class should correspond with the individual, not one’s status at birth. Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine, on the other hand, demonstrate that those of high class can have a bad nature and be undeserving of their status. Lady Catherine for example, has a most unpleasant personality. She is “frank” to the point of callousness
  • 5. Lesikar 5 and her pride permeates her every interaction. In describing her, the narrator says, “whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self- importance”(Austen 136). Not only is she prideful, she is also hypocritical. Lady Catherine praises the importance of education, while she herself seems lacking. Neither she nor her daughter, for example, is proficient in any instrument. Miss Caroline Bingley shares such an unappealing personality and character. Her mean-spirited nature compels her to talk behind Elizabeth’s back. Caroline’s pride is illustrated in her condescending attitude at the first ball, where she privately insults the towns assembly. Her manners, also, are superficial, as demonstrated in her friendship with Jane. She is only a friend with Jane while she needs her company, and then she abandons her acquaintance once she moves to the city. These two characters illustrate that class is not the equivalent of good nature and that some in such positions can be undeserving of their status. However, it is interesting to observe that unlike Lydia, these two undeserving characters do not seem to be punished for their undesirable natures. The fact that Austen chooses not to punish these two high-class characters, reveals Austen’s the realism in her critique of class. Lydia comes from a middle class family with a middle class income, and by the end of the novel she is unhappily married and destitute. Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley come from established families with substantial incomes, and by the end of the novel their greatest “punishment” is unfulfilled hopes regarding marriage prospects. Austen understands that power has privilege. It would be unrealistic on Austen’s part to write a great fall from power for these two individuals due to flaws in their character. Austen is not unrealistic, nor does she desire
  • 6. Lesikar 6 the dismantling of her society’s structure. Austen may be critiquing society, but she also understands the way it works. Analysis reveals that Jane Austen has a lot to say about nature and her society’s class system. Jane and Elizabeth demonstrate that someone from the middle class can be qualified by nature for higher status, while Mrs. Bennet and Lydia demonstrate that this is not always the case. Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine demonstrate that someone born into high class can be undeserving of his/her status, thought that doesn’t mean that their society will demote them. Over all, it seems that Austen demonstrates that class at birth does not determine the quality of one’s nature. A strict class system, according to Austen, is thus functioning around an incorrect understanding of nature. However, “Nature and nurture” is a two-pronged topic. What does Austen convey of her opinions regarding nurture? There seem to be many examples of how nurture, or manners and education, might now be read as unimportant to Austen in Pride and Prejudice. Jane and Liz, for instance, have been demonstrated as lacking thorough educations. And yet, these characters are beloved by readers and rewarded in Austen’s plot are rewarded. On the other hand, Characters such as Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine have manners and education, but they use them to act with arrogance and the audience is quick to critique their behavior. Fortunately, further examination reveals important distinctions between good and bad manners. Manners and education turn bad when they are not accompanied by a good nature. This usually manifests in manners that are shallow and prideful. As already demonstrated, both Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley are snobbish individuals in sore
  • 7. Lesikar 7 need of good character; thus, they are excellent subjects for observation on this topic. Miss Bingley is a superb example of how manners and education can be shallow when unaccompanied by good nature. Caroline seems only ever to engage her education in pursuit of the admiration of others. For example, she picks up a novel in hopes of engaging Darcy, but sets it down again when she realizes it won’t catch his eye. This is ironic in the light of current discussion. She wanted the novel only for the attention it could draw to her, and for none of the true entertainment and thought it could bring her. Additionally, she strolls about the room “conscious that her figure appears to its best advantage while walking”(Austen 48). In the article “Jane Austen’s ‘Excellent Walker’” Olivia Murphy describes her performance as one “of great skill, but with little athletic effort and with no purpose”(Murphy 5). Caroline’s expertise at walking with grace and poise is a testament to her fine education. However, the activity lacks depth, unlike the reading that she was so quick to cast aside. While manners and education can certainly be used for the wrong reasons and to ill effect, Austen also provides examples of the contrary. Austen’s examination of class and nature and nurture might seem out of date and irrelevant to the detached observer. However, issues of class and questions about the functioning of social interactions are timeless discussions. From India’s caste system, to America’s modern suburbs, such discussions are far from irrelevant. If what Austen presents is truth, then it would likely suggest alterations to the social constructs of both settings. Austen may have been offering a critique to English society during the Regency period, but her illustration of the functioning of human nature and nurture in society spans borders and centuries.
  • 8. Lesikar 8 In conclusion, it seems that Austen offers a unique reconcilable critique for society regarding their understanding of nature and nurture and class. Nature, she illustrates, isn’t determined by class. It is inherent to the individual, not determined by one’ birth. Accordingly, Austen argues that one should be allowed to move within the class system according to one’s nature, as demonstrated through the beloved characters Elizabeth and Jane. On the other side of the issue, nature is negative unless accompanied by good nature. But when accompanied by good nature, nurture is desirable in that builds relationships and eases social interactions. Works Cited Allen, Dennis. “No Love for Lydia: The fate of Desire in Pride and Prejudice” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 27.4 (1985): 425-443. JSTOR. Web. 18 April 2014. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print
  • 9. Lesikar 9 Deresiewicz, William. "Community and Cognition in Pride and Prejudice." ELH. 64.2 (1997): 503-35. Duckworth, Alstair. The Improvement of the Estate. London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971. Print. Dussigner, John. In the pride of the Moment. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press,1990. Print. Hindley, Meredith. "The Mysterious Miss Austen." Humanities 34.1 (2013): 20-51. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. Monaghan, David. “Pride and Prejudice: Structure and Social Vision.” Modern Critical Interpretations Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 59-83. Print. Murphy, Olivia. "Jane Austen's ‘Excellent Walker’: Pride, Prejudice, and Pedestrianism." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 26.1 (2013): 121-142. Project MUSE. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. Sherry, James. “Pride and Prejudice: The Limits of Society.” Rice University 19.4 (1979): 609-622. Web. JSTOR. 3 March 2014.
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