Elizabeth Bennett Character Analysis Essay
Few characters stand out in world literature as much as Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett. She is at once the protagonist of the novel and a sort of alter ego for its author Jane Austen. In a world and period when women were treated as inferior to men—indeed by some as mere possessions of men—Elizabeth stands out as a fully formed, animated personality. She is both independent and curious and comes to her own judgments about the society she lives, refusing to rely on tradition or received wisdom. While clearly loving her family members, she also sets herself apart from them, striking an independent pose that she crafts and shapes throughout the novel. In this way, she clearly distinguishes herself from her mother and her sister Lydia who are both slaves to tradition and trivial impulses. This essay will specifically look at how Elizabeth differs in attitude and character from her traditionalist mother and her over-the-top sister, Lydia.
From the very first description of Elizabeth, by her father, we see that she is often thought of as being separate from her sisters. She has a “quickness”; her mind works at a fast pace and with irony; she immediately sees the different possibilities in a situation and how different perspectives will bring different consequences to bear. She is more like her father, who Austen describes as “a mixture of quick parts [and] sarcastic humour” than she is like her mother, “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper” (35). Her mother cannot understand Elizabeth’s father, even after 20 years, nor does she make much effort. Her life is an incurious one, full of routine and drudgery, and she does not find humour or interest in anything especially. Elizabeth is very different, very much the ironist. While Mrs. Bennett sees a world of surface, of agreeable manners, much like Jane does too, Elizabeth is cynical, wise to the ways of the world. Elizabeth also minds her own business. She is not constantly asking questions about personal matters, as is Mrs. Bennett. Though she has a wry and sometimes sarcastic personality, she does not constantly need to poke away at other people, even though she is a curious person. This distinguishes her from her mother who is a busy-body; Elizabeth is a self-contained personality. Mrs. Bennett on the other hand is a gossip and even though she is described as having a “querulous serenity,” it is plain from the way Jane Austen writes that this is an empty serenity and nowhere near the fulfillment that Elizabeth finds at the end of the novel.
Clearly, Elizabeth is a very curious and independent person, but no one would describe her as wild or rebellious. Although she questions the social mores that she lives within, she does not attempt to break down the walls. She is a rational person not given to impulses. This is the opposite of Lydia, Elizabeth’s youngest sister. Lydia is an impulsive, foolish girl. When she elopes with Wickham, she threatens to bring her entire family into disgrace. As much as Elizabeth might question the qualities of her family, she plainly loves them too much to ever threaten them in this way. When Elizabeth thinks of Lydia, she is rational enough to see her, uncoloured by sisterly feelings. She is sure that Wickham is lying to her and will never marry her. She knows men and she knows Lydia. “Wickham will never marry a woman without some money. He cannot afford it. And what claims has Lydia, what attractions has she beyond youth, health, and good humour . . .” (203). Elizabeth is unsentimental—this distinguishes her from Lydia who at the beck and call of instinct. Unlike Lydia, Elizabeth is cool, calm and collected, very much an independent spirit.
Elizabeth Bennett is a most remarkable character. Although no rebel, she questions everything around her and looks towards people’s self-interest rather than believing whatever she is told. Instead of taking dramatic action to free herself and gain total independence, she uses the system to benefit herself. Compared to her mother and sister, she is a shrewd, ironic woman, who is distinguishes herself due to her curiosity and independence.