Satire in Pride & Prejudice

Satire in Pride & Prejudice
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  • 0:01 Satire
  • 1:20 Satirical Character:…
  • 2:15 Satirical Character:…
  • 3:29 Satirical Charactes
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

We will begin this lesson by defining and explaining satire. We will then discuss some examples of satire within ''Pride and Prejudice'' by Jane Austen.

Satire

As humans, we are often absurd beings, whether because of our personality quirks or our efforts to fit into a particular group. Jane Austen recognized this about humanity, so she tried to show how some of this human foolishness was often harmful to society and even just laughable. Austen does this in Pride and Prejudice by using satire.

Satire is a literary device that uses humor and sarcasm to point out the absurdity of parts of humanity, often focusing on stereotypes of the time period. Satire often includes pointing out flaws in society's expectations by creating characters who fit into a social stereotype and whom the audience finds ridiculous. Austen uses satire throughout Pride and Prejudice to make these points.

One major theme in the book that requires Austen's use of satire is the focus on the silliness of the expectation of women and marriage in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Women were expected by society to want to find a wealthy and powerful man to marry, and to give birth to and raise children (whom they hoped would be boys). Women often did not expect much of themselves except to find this 'perfect' man to marry (who could possibly be tolerable to live with and handsome, if they were lucky) and give birth to male children. This was seen as the appropriate duty of a woman at the time.

Satirical Character: Mr. Collins

Mr. Collins protesting against reading novels because they are not serious enough
Mr. Collins protesting against reading novels

Elizabeth Bennet's cousin, Mr. William Collins, is one of Austen's satirical characters in the novel. A potential husband for Elizabeth, Collins is a clergyman who receives financial support from the wealthy Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Despite his wealth and availability, Elizabeth does not want to marry him because he is arrogant, nonsensical, and boastful of his wealth and connection to Lady Catherine. Austen describes Collins as 'a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.'

Austen uses him as a satirical figure by showing that Collins only cares about how he fits into and is perceived by society. This is the young male stereotype that Austen is trying to ridicule in her work: the man that cares only about power, wealth, and inheriting land and more wealth through his marriage. Collins thinks that any woman would be happy and lucky to marry him because he is conceited about his rank in society.

Satirical Character: Mrs. Bennet

Mrs. Bennet whispering gossip to Mrs. Phillips
Mrs. Bennet whispering gossip to Mrs. Phillips

Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth's mother, is another character whom Austen uses to satirize expectations of women and marriage, particularly how women would only desire to marry wealthy because they had been taught to want that by society. Unlike Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet is a likable and seemingly well-intentioned character. However, she is overly excitable to the point where she suffers health problems. Austen portrays her as a greedy and foolish character because of her obsession over getting her five daughters married to wealthy men.

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