The Presentation of Female Characters in Pride and Prejudice and the Yellow Wallpaper

Female characters are often represented as being constrained by their
societies.??™
Explore the presentation of female characters in the light of this statement.
In your response, you should focus on Pride and Prejudice to establish your argument
and you should refer to the second text you have read to support and
develop your line and argument.

Jane Austen successfully depicts the intricacies of Regency era society in her novel Pride and Prejudice. The novel makes a conscious statement about womanhood; it argues that poor, single women have an extremely limited range of choices: either poverty or marriage.? Pride and Prejudice? offers us a look into this rather intensely feminine world of courting, marriage decisions, and social realities. To a certain extent, some of Austen??™s female characters are indeed represented as being constrained by the society they live in. Austen??™s female characters are portrayed as being deeply aware of their conventional roles in society- as mother, daughter or wife- and their different responses to the roles they are supposed to play; some defiant, others submissive.
The heroine of the novel, Elizabeth Bennet, is held up as an alternative role model for females. By providing a female character who is bold, independent, honest, and forthright, Austen criticizes the social construction of female identity in early 19th century England. Elizabeth Bennet is fully aware that she has no other option but to get married to secure her livelihood. However, she sees that marriage is also a direct ticket to unhappiness, as seen in the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet. Elizabeth- unlike Charlotte Lucas, her close friend- is not prepared to accept marriage proposals from someone who is unlikely to make her happy in marrying him. In Chapter 19, Elizabeth rejects Mr Collins??™s proposal ??“ much to the derision of her mother, Mrs Bennet – saying ??????My feelings in every respect forbid [accepting]??¦Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.?????™ We learn that Elizabeth is chiefly concerned with being seen as a thinking human being with honest intentions. Her rejection of Collins??™s proposal is an act that is relatively unheard of in Regency era society, when women were chasing proposals not for actual romance, but for financial security. Married women were solely financially dependent on their husbands. In a society that makes marriage the sole means of survival, Elizabeth defies convention by rejecting her first proposal because she knows she will never be romantically inclined towards Mr Collins. When Mr Darcy proposes to her ??“ offering her a golden opportunity to a life of comfort and luxury – she yet again rejects the offer, despite his high social standing and annual income. By making the central female character of her novel a revolutionary, opinionated, defiant woman, Austen sends a direct message to her readers – showing us that women should be unafraid of making bold decisions, that there is an alternate viewpoint of marriage altogether.
Charlotte Lucas is depicted as Elizabeth??™s foil ??“ her closest friend and confidante apart from Elizabeth??™s own sister, Jane. Charlotte, unlike Elizabeth, sees her life as a ???sink-or-swim??™ situation- where, if she is unable to marry, she will lose her livelihood. She has a practical take on the institution of marriage, believing that romance is not the key factor when considering a potential suitor. In Chapter 22, soon after his proposal to Elizabeth is rejected, Mr Collins proposes to Charlotte, whose ?????¦reflections were in general satisfactory??™. Mr Collins, who is ???neither sensible nor agreeable; [whose] society was irksome, and his attachment to her [imaginary]??™ would ???[still] be her husband??™, because ???marriage [has] always been her object; [as it is] the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune??™. In these paragraphs Austen describes Charlotte??™s opinion on the subject of marriage, and we are given a direct insight on how she feels that Collins is her only hope of marriage, and that it is unimportant whether she actually cares for him or not. She is aware that her chances of marrying are low, and that it is her only true goal in life. This is a completely different take (from Elizabeth??™s) on marriage. As an unmarried woman of nearly twenty-seven years old, Charlotte is considered an ???old maid??™. Her acceptance of Collins??™s proposal is an act of desperation, driven by need. Charlotte is represented as a woman who is indeed constrained by her society and forced to do what is expected of a woman during the Regency era. In comparison, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman highlights the subordination of women in marriage and further examines a woman??™s role within the marriage. In this novel, the wife is at the complete mercy of her husband, who forces her to partake in the ???rest cure??™ by locking her up in a room and barring her from writing and thinking. However, the protagonist manages to liberate herself in her insanity, saying ??????I??™ve got out at last?????™ ??“ in contrast, Charlotte never does try and free herself from the shackles of a marriage intended for security.
The shallow mind set of Lydia Bennet and her mother, Mrs Bennet is a direct product of their patriarchal society. Yet, these are the two characters that seem rather revolutionary in their opinions and actions. Mrs Bennet is the only first character to criticize terms of entailment during the age. She thinks ????????¦it is the hardest thing in the world, that [Mr Bennet??™s] estate should be entailed away from [his] own children??¦??? and she ?????¦should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.?????™ Her two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth proceed to explain to her the terms of an entailment, but she is ???beyond the reach of reason??™ (Chapter 13). Mrs Bennet is the only other character (other than Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a woman of much higher social standing) who decries terms of entailment, where an estate is entailed to the closest male relative instead of one??™s daughters (in this case, to Mr Collins instead of the Bennet sisters). As a woman who is perpetually represented as shallow and dim-witted, Mrs Bennet goes against the status quo by critiquing how the daughters in a family are not entailed their father??™s estate- hence forcing them to find the next best alternative, marriage, to secure their livelihood. Lydia Bennet is seen as a carefree, flirtatious and flighty girl, who finds her greatest pleasure in flirting with military officers in Meryton and Brighton. Elizabeth, her older sister disapproves of her flirtatious behaviour and tries to persuade her father not to let Lydia take a trip to Brighton with Mrs Forster. She is afraid that Lydia will be known as the ????????¦most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous??¦?????™. Lydia is an example of a female character that is not physically restrained by her society. In fact, the only character who deems her behaviour ???improper??™ is Elizabeth, who is considered one of the more liberal, opinionated characters. Lydia is unconcerned with propriety and family reputation – unlike Elizabeth. In contrast, the protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper is perpetually physically constrained by society, until she is driven to insanity. In this novel the lead female character is restrained by her closest relatives, her husband and sister-in-law.
Often, female characters are portrayed as being constrained by the societies they live in. Austen indeed does this, but she also shows her readers that women can ultimately choose their destiny, by depicting the varied responses and opinions of her characters. We see that there are always two sides to a character ??“ sometimes, the most outspoken, opinionated character can even be primarily concerned with propriety and social image. Other characters, portrayed as silly and shallow can be the most defiant of societal norms. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the protagonist who was initially fully trapped within her marriage found freedom within her mind. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that women are never truly constrained by their societies, but it is more likely that they are restrained by themselves.

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