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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Dysfunctional Bennets

on May 20, 2021
Photo from the Houstonia

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet clearly depict the typical unhappily married couple whose loveless marriage was prompted by social expectation and confirmed by an economic social contract. Mr. Bennet is witty and intelligent. He likes to escape into his study to read and ruminate. He prefers his second daughter, Elizabeth, because she is most like him. He recognizes that she “has something more of quickness than her sisters.” Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is so frivolous, superficial, inappropriate, and self-absorbed, she seems to come from a lower class than her husband. Mr. Bennet consistently responds to his wife with sarcastic comments and regards his three youngest daughters as silly and ignorant — just like his wife.

Although his property is entailed, Mr. Bennet does not seem very motivated to provide for his daughters. He expects them to follow the precepts of society and marry as well as they can, if possible. He is, therefore, willing to go meet Mr. Bingley in order to pave the way for his daughters’ introduction to their new neighbors. He has full faith that his daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, have the sincerity and moral character to find suitable husbands. He does not seem to have much expectation for his younger daughters. Despite Elizabeth’s warning, he is caught by surprise when Lydia disgraces herself. However, Lydia’s disgrace makes him realize that he has not done enough to secure his daughters’ futures. And he goes to the other extreme and threatens to severely restrict Kitty’s life until she is properly married. Mary seems to be overlooked here, as if her only expectation is to become an old maid.

Mr. Bennet recognizes the ludicrousness of a marriage between Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. He knows that Elizabeth is worthy of so much better — unlike his wife, who feels it is “the business of her life” to get her daughters married off, regardless of the unsuitability of the match. Secretly, Mr. Bennet would like to spare his two older daughters the unhappiness and torture of a loveless marriage.

Exposed to the dysfunctional dynamics of her family, Elizabeth is determined to avoid the same fate as her father. She acknowledges his faults, empathizes with him, and longs to escape her mother and younger sisters and their constant nagging and bickering. She disdains superficiality and shallowness because she experiences it every day with her own mother and younger sisters. She hates being pressured to conform to her mother’s irrational will. She is embarrassed by her mother’s uncontrolled tongue and thoughtless behavior. She is humiliated by the carelessness and impropriety displayed by her younger sisters. She wants to be better than all of them. When she sees the same vanity and artificiality in the upper classes, she is unimpressed.

Elizabeth realizes that her family is a hindrance to her chances of securing a happy marriage. She feels this even more acutely when she begins to fall in love with Darcy. When she visits Pemberley and realizes that Darcy is well-regarded and burdened with many responsibilities, she longs to be a part of his world. She fiercely defends herself when Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts her. And when she finally gives in and accepts Darcy, her father welcomes the marriage as the best course of action for Elizabeth and her family. Darcy has proven that he is a responsible, morally upright man.

The fairy-tale ending is not unreasonable, however. Both Elizabeth and Darcy complement each other in positive ways that convince the reader that a happy marriage will, indeed, be the end result.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

October 3, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


4 responses to “Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Dysfunctional Bennets

  1. […] Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Dysfunctional Bennets […]

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