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Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen is set in regional England in the 19th century where the lines of class were strictly drawn between the upper and middle classes. In this society, gender roles were quite rigid, and women could only achieve a respected status in such a patriarchal society through a prudent marriage. Austen’s novel conveys universal themes that are still very relevant to contemporary society such as sexism and classism, which on first reading may seem outmoded as they are represented in quite extreme ways in the novel. Despite this, these values maintain relevance to a contemporary reader as they correlate with how people are still often unfairly perceived in our modern society, as determined by their gender, wealth, and social status.

The characterization of Mrs Bennet and Charlotte conveys Austen’s criticism of the gender inequality of her time; an issue of relevance to contemporary society though not to the same extent due to improvements brought about by women’s rights movements through the ages. In Austen’s middle-class society, women were not the rightful owners of any material property and the only way to acquire a respectful status in society was through marriage with a man of high social status. Also, women were often forced to marry not for love but rather for someone who was more “agreeable” in all other aspects. This is epitomized by Charlotte who accepted the fact that she would not be marrying for love as she says, “When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.” This demonstrates how Charlotte believes that it is neither necessary for Jane to fall in love with Bingley nor even to know much about him. She believes that Jane must work hard to marry Bingley, to have security, and to gain a respectful status in society. This reveals the inequality women faced as they had limited options during the Regency era and many like Charlotte accepted the fact they would not be marrying for love. Mrs Bennet, the sycophantic mother feels she has the right to choose who her daughter marries as she scurries away to demand Mr Bennet to convince Elizabeth to accept Mr Collins. Her emotional and dramatic appeal to Mr Bennett is evident as she tells him, “Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him.” This interaction reveals the gender roles where fathers had authority over their daughter’s future husbands as the marriage was not for personal reasons but for the future benefit of the family. Although women are now allowed to choose whoever they want to marry and are allowed to marry for love, in the 21st century women still experience gender inequality, most evident in the gender pay gap. Australia’s full-time gender pay gap is 14% and women earn on average $241.50 per week less than men. This novel maintains its relevance to the contemporary reader as the values and attitudes towards women, though covert compared to the overt rigid values and attitudes aimed at women in the Regency era, remain.

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The novel uses the caricatures of Mr Collins and Lady Catherine De Bourgh to convey the division between upper and middle classes which is relevant to today’s society as prejudice against wealth is well hidden. Austen employs caricature in her characterization of Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins as they epitomize the extreme values and attitudes towards class as neither can tolerate breech of class rank. Mr Collins is a ridiculous, pompous clergyman concerned with only impressing others and Lady Catherine De Bourgh is domineering and meddles in everyone’s affairs. Mr Collins’ advice to Elizabeth is that “you merely put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest…Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.” shows how he drew the line between wealth and status, insulting Elizabeth’s lack of access to fancy clothing but uses this as a point of demarcation to distinguish between the classes. This dialogue also points out Lady Catherine’s vanity and superficiality, showing the exaggerated representation of Mr Collins as atypical of those in the 19th century who divided the classes. Lady Catherine reveals her authoritarian and dominant nature as she says to Elizabeth “You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.” This demonstrates how haughtily she assumes her power as she demands Elizabeth to promise she will not marry Darcy and reflects the distinctions within the same class of nobility. She is also a caricature, representative of the upper middle class who are arrogant and conceited. The class hierarchy in today’s society is formed from wealth which is attained differently from the 19th century such as net worth, the number of designer clothing, or sports cars people own. Although people are not labeled as upper middle class or lower class anymore, there is still subtle social status prejudice towards people depending on the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, or where they live.

Social status dependence on income maintains relevance to today’s society as people are still unfairly perceived due to their bank balance. In modern-day Australia, one of the highest-paid jobs is found in the medical field such as surgeons who earn $394, 866 per year, and anesthetists who earn $367, 343 per annum. High-paid jobs such as surgeons and anesthetists are more privileged in society as they have more money to spend on their needs and wants. Therefore, people who earn a higher salary have a higher social status than other people within a society. By comparison even back in Austen’s time, how much you earned was a determinant of your social worth. The characterization of Mr. Darcy represents how social status is heavily dependent on income. Mr Darcy is a wealthy landowner who earned ten thousand a year from his estate in Derbyshire. “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year.” This implies how when someone earns a high income, they are considered more attractive, and well respected in society and are thereby elevated to a high social status. The novel maintains its relevance to a contemporary audience by conveying the prejudice against people depending on their income which is still how people are perceived in society although it is indirect.

The novel, Pride and Prejudice reflects outmoded values and attitudes related to sexism and classism which maintain its relevance to a contemporary reader as people are often falsely perceived depending on their gender, wealth, and income. We are still perceived unfairly due to our values and attitudes towards cars, clothing, jobs, and places we live. This novel shows how human nature has not changed since the 19th century through our prejudice against others.

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