Pride and Prejudice paper
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Pride and Prejudice paper
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print
Deresiewicz, William. "Community and Cognition in Pride and Prejudice." ELH. 64.2
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
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.
Sherry, James. “Pride and Prejudice: The Limits of Society.” Rice University 19.4 (1979):
609-622. Web. JSTOR. 3 March 2014.