Breaking Barriers | Teen Ink

Breaking Barriers

February 8, 2023
By clarART SILVER, Boston, Massachusetts
clarART SILVER, Boston, Massachusetts
9 articles 7 photos 0 comments

“I am only resolved to act in that manner which will constitute my happiness…Neither duty, nor honor, nor gratitude have any possible claim on me” (Austen 338). In these words to Lady Catherine, Elizabeth expresses her strong opinions surrounding marriage. Her interactions with many other characters besides Lady Catherine further emphasize this. One of the most impactful of these characters is Charlotte Lucas, who serves as a foil to Elizabeth. Charlotte's character allows Elizabeth's unconventional ideas to appear sensible. Through developing the contrasting characters of Charlotte and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen demonstrates how there is a diversity of reasons for marriage besides what is culturally expected.

Charlotte’s conventional views on marriage highlight, yet also contrast, Elizabeth’s views. From the start of the novel, Austen paints Charlotte as a “sensible, intelligent young woman” and a close friend to Elizabeth (19). However, they do not always see eye-to-eye, especially on the topic of marriage. Charlotte argues that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” which catches Elizabeth off guard (24). Unlike Elizabeth, Charlotte firmly believes that it is “better to know as little as possible” about the “person with whom you are to pass your life” (24). This opinion is so foriegn to Elizabeth that she nearly laughs at the notion. Charlotte explains that she “is not romantic” and only asks for a “comfortable home” (123). Charlotte’s beliefs surrounding marriage stand in stark contrast to Elizabeth’s. Charlotte sees marriage as an opportunity to establish domestic and financial security and is less concerned with affection. This conforms with the social expectations of a woman seeking marriage in that time period. Elizabeth is fixed on going against the norms and marrying someone she is truly in love with. Charlotte’s views adhere to the typical woman of the 1800s, therefore allowing Elizabeth, who has more progressive opinions, to stand out.

Charlotte and Elizabeth also make contrasting decisions concerning marriage. Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins strikes Elizabeth with much “confusion” and “astonishment,” as this is a “possibility” Elizabeth had considered to be “impossible” (122). Elizabeth had previously rejected Mr. Collins with much certainty, an experience that even causes her to have “uncomfortable feelings attending it” (113). Unknown to Elizabeth, Charlotte takes advantage of this situation and turns Mr. Collins “towards herself,” securing their engagement (119). From this, it is easy to see how Charlotte acts as a foil to Elizabeth, as they are both proposed to by the same person yet make different choices. Similar to her views about marriage, Charlotte’s decisions reflect the role a woman was most often forced to play in marital culture. She finds a tolerable suiter as fast as possible and then marries “solely” for the “desire of an establishment” (120). Elizabeth is not enticed by Mr. Collin’s wealth and connections like Charlotte is. She is a strong, independent character and rejects Mr. Collins for not seeing her as an equal. Unlike Charlotte, Elizabeth’s decisions about marriage don't align with the stereotypical woman of the 1800s.

Jane Austen skillfully writes Charlotte so that she is able to shine a light on Elizabeth’s character. Neither’s viewpoints and decisions are any less valid than the other, but it is Elizabeth that Jane Austen wants the reader to pay attention to. Elizabeth is the one who stands out by trying to break the social norms surrounding marriage. Her actions are extremely important when compared to present time. Women’s rights have undergone much progression, especially regarding marriage, since the 1800s. Perhaps this progression has Jane Austen and Elizabeth to thank.

Work Cited Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Penguin Classics, 1996.

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