In her novels, Jane Austen employs the timelessly effective characterization agents of dialogue, action, and point of view to cleverly manipulate the reader’s emotions towards the characters. Austen successfully creates heroins in a time that it was not social acceptable to think of women in a heroic role. She is so successful in applying these characterization techniques in her story lines that she molds a positive feeling towards strong females without the reader even realizing the influence the author’s agents have had, at the same time creating a very entertaining story.
In Pride and Prejudice as well as Mansfield Park for example, Jane Austen creates characters who are some of the finest products of strong and intelligent women, yet do not loose their femininity, of our civilization. She accomplishes this feat by using the dialogue and action of the characters to manipulate the reader’s feelings towards these women. Austen also uses irony, satire and humor in all of her novels to show how ridiculous conventional Victorian country life was.
She had a plethera of social commentary to make, and although women in her time period were conventionally outspoken, she used her novels as a means to show women could be intelligent, humorous, and strong without loosing their femininity. Jane Austen was a child of the Enlightenment, an age when reason was valued while many romantic traditions were slowly coming to light in society.
As one of the educated and intelligent women emerging from this era, Austen used the character of Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, to epitomize the harmonious balance between reason and emotion in a woman, making her a very likeable character to the reader. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s strength of character is emphasized by its contrast with the weak, nive acceptance of Jane’s character, the instability and excess of Mrs. Bennet’s and the blind, sheep like following of Kitty’s.
Her strength is also shown in her rejections of the proposals of Mr. Collins and Darcy. Unlike her mother, she does not base her choice of love on the financial security that they could give to her, and has the strength and willingness to reject them. This is a prime example of Austen’s social commentary. She skillfully manipulates the reader into likeing this character, but she gives her features that in everyday life people would think negativly of.
This is especially evident in her rejection of Darcy’s initial proposal, when she displays a great deal of strength in her anger due to her belief that he has willfully prevented Jane and Bingley’s marriage and wronged Wickham by refusing to grant him the property that the old Mr. Darcy bestowed upon him. In both cases, the man is self-assured that his proposal will be accepted, and as a result Elizabeth’s rejections are in proportion to the size of the blows that their egos receive. In Rosings, she does not let Lady Catherine tyrannize her as “the mere satellites of money and rank, she thought she could witness without trepidation.
The Lucases and Collinses are submissive to Lady Catherine, with Maria being “frightened almost out of her senses”, and it is probable that society as a whole behaves likewise, as Elizabeth suspects she is “the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with such dignified impertinence”. Austen again portrays her as a rebel against ideas of class, popular in the day, when Lady Catherine pays a visit to her to ensure that she does not marry Darcy and Elizabeth refuses to accept the idea that Pemberley will be “polluted” by her presence. Here Elizabeth stands up for what she believes to be right.
Elizabeth also expresses her rebellion against society by not becoming accomplished in the arts, as women were expected to then. Elizabeth’s intelligence reveals her to be one of the few characters of the novel that really strike the reader, Austen portrays her as a sensible individual in a society largely composed of fools. Which incidently is another example of the social observations Austen makes in her novels. As the daughter of Mr. Bennet, her view of society is cynical and ironical, heightened by the presence of brainless family members and neighbors.
It is her sense of irony that enables her to survive in such a society, as she enjoys the humor of the ridiculousness of Mr. Collins as her father does. However, she does not use as insulting a tone as her father does, but chooses to define it as “impertinence”. After Darcy’s proposal is accepted, Darcy tells her that one of the reasons why he fell in love with her was “the liveliness of your mind”, showing that her intelligence adds to her charms as she uses it in the form of with rather than cold cynicism. She enjoys studying characters, and is able to tell Bingley, “I understand you perfectly.
The relative objectiveness of her views of characters is emphasized when compared with people like Jane, who assumes that all people are good-hearted, and Mr. Collins, who is automatically swayed to the favor of people of noble birth. Elizabeth’s subjective first impressions of Darcy and Wickham show that she is human and can make mistakes in this field; but the fact that she can apply reason after her initial outrage on reading Darcy’s letter demonstrates her ability to face truths and change her mind rationally. She is self-aware, unlike characters such as Mr. Collins who do not realize their own absurdity.
She can criticize herself, such as when she is “enraged with herself for being so silly” for hoping that Darcy still loves her, or even mocking herself, as when she remarks on the potential misfortune that she may “find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! ” The existence of contrasting characters in Pride and Prejudice displays the fact that Elizabeth has a balance between the cold knowledge of Mary and the wild emotion of Lydia. Mr. Bennet brands both Lydia and Mary as silly, but he respects Elizabeth as she can use reason to apply her knowledge and to curb her emotion.
The severe practicality of Charlotte Lucas, seen in her acceptance of Mr. Collins’ proposal which Elizabeth had refused, highlights the fact that although Elizabeth is not romantic to the point of ignoring reality, she is not overly pragmatic either, and understands the importance of love and emotion in life. However, Elizabeth also possesses qualities which make her attractive in a traditional feminine way. She is undoubtedly pretty, being said to be “equally next to Jane in birth and beauty”. After Darcy’s initial rejection to dance with her, it is her “fine eyes” that begin to interest him.
Despite her cynicism towards humanity, she is not as passive towards the silliness of her family members’ actions as Mr. Bennet, being embarrassed at the Netherfield ball and trying to prevent Lydia from going to Brighton. After marriage, she is able to reform Kitty by bringing her to live with her so that she becomes, “by proper attention andmanagement, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. ” Her intimate relationship with Jane is touching, as they confide in each other and give each other advice.
It reveals Elizabeth’s capacity for sympathy, as seen in the vehemence of her accusation of Darcy for deliberately keeping Jane and Bingley apart. Darcy cites her “affectionate behavior to Jane”. Their sisterly relationship is seen as all the more valuable when contrasted with that of Kitty and Lydia, where Lydia simply encourages Kitty in foolishness and is insensitive to her when she is upset. Her high spirits,which can be construed as flirtatious, also attract Darcy to her, as illustrated by her demand that he help to sustain a conversation between them when they dance together at the Netherfield ball.
Her character is in no way unfeminine, and it is no wonder that Darcy is attracted to her after he comes to know and understand her. From this, we can see that Austen has managed to create her ideal woman in Elizabeth. Her strength and intelligence are qualities that make her respectable and admirable to any man or woman, but the fact that she possesses a softer, feminine side makes her genuinely attractive in the eyes of the reader, and helps us to better appreciate her other qualities.