Saturday, November 6, 2010

According to a critic, one of the important themes in Pride and Prejudice is parenthood. How is this theme dealt with in this novel?

The Need of Parental Supervision over Children
Parenthood is indeed an important theme in Pride and Prejudice. And it is not the excellences of parenthood which the novel highlights; it is the deficiencies in parental supervision over children that are brought into prominence by the author. The novel seeks to show that the upbringing of children is something to which many parents up not attach that importance which it deserves. In fact, the writer shows her concern for the need of proper upbringing of children by parents by exposing to our view what goes wrong when parents fail in this duty or take the matter lightly or are too lazy to pay any attention to it.

The Failure of Mr. Bennet to Put a
Check u
pon Lydia and Kitty
Early in the novel we witness the sad consequences of parental neglect in bringing up and educating children properly or adequately. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are the parents concerned and in Chapter 7 we are told of the excessive interest which their two youngest daughters, Catherine (Kitty) and Lydia, take in the officers of the militia regiment stationed near their residence. The minds of these two girls, we are told, were "more vacant than their sisters' ". The two girls pay frequent visits to their aunt Mrs. Philips who is as silly and vulgar as Mrs. Bennet and who encourages their passion for the uniforms of the officers and for the officers themselves. After listening to the chatter of these two girls one morning, Mr. Bennet coolly tells them that, judging by their manner of talk, they must be two of the silliest girls in the country. There is no doubt at all that the girls are really very silly, but who is responsible for their silliness? Largely their father, of course. What is noteworthy here is that he makes his depreciatory remark "coolly". In other words, he observes the girls' silliness but does not feel perturbed or upset by it and he does not realize at all that something may have been wanting in the manner in which he has brought them up. If these two daughters of his are behaving in an indecorous and foolish way, the fault is partly his own and his wife's. He has done nothing to check them in the beginning, and he does nothing now. Mrs. Bennet is even more at fault here. Instead of joining her husband in scolding the girls, she defends them, and she defends them in a manner which shows that she is not only tolerant of their silliness but shares their silly tastes. First, she says that she would not wish to speak slightingly of her own children and then she goes on to say that she herself in her younger days liked an officer's uniform very much and that she likes it still.
Mr. Bennet's Indifference and Mrs. Bennet's Stupidity
During Elizabeth's stay at Hunsford, she is on one occasion interrogated by Lady Catherine de Bourgh and asked if, without a governess in the family, she and her sisters were not neglected so far as their education and upbringing were concerned. Elizabeth replies that she and her sisters had always been encouraged to read but that some of them still spent their time in idleness. Evidently the girls were encouraged to read by Mr. Bennet, and evidently Mr. Bennet's indifference and Mrs. Bennet's stupidity were responsible for the idleness of the two who wished to remain idle, namely, Kitty and Lydia. Character and intelligence are seen by Jane Austen as of enormous importance; but these qualities require to be supplemented by education and inculcation of sound principles. Elizabeth and Jane have become sensible, well-behaved, and wise by their own efforts and in spite of their parents' indifference. Mary has become studious to compensate herself for her lack of good looks, but her knowledge and "learning" are accompanied by an absolute want of common sense and sincerely held values. Lydia and Kitty, lacking in character and intelligence, have been encouraged in folly by the indifference of their father and the indulgence of their mother.
Mr. Bennet's Evasion of Responsibility
So the embarrassments suffered by Elizabeth and Jane are directly attributable to the inadequacy of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as parents. The ultimate effect of their inadequacy is seen in the behaviour of Lydia. Lydia and her mother feel delighted and thrilled by Mrs. Forster's invitation to Lydia to accompany her to Brighton, and Mr. Bennet remains indifferent. It is only Elizabeth who realizes the pitfalls and dangers to which Lydia would be exposed if she goes to Brighton, but Mr. Bennet pays no heed to Elizabeth's apprehensions in this respect. Elizabeth warns her father that Lydia would be totally spoilt if he does not check her exuberant spirits and if he does not teach her that her present pursuits should not be allowed to become the whole business of her life. Mr. Bennet simply replies that both Lydia and Kitty are silly girls but that neither Jane nor Elizabeth will lose anything by the silliness of those two girls, adding that there will be no peace in the house if he stops Lydia from going to Brighton. Thus Mr. Bennet wants peace in the house even if to secure peace he has to abdicate his authority as a father. He is too indolent to assert himself in the house, and he has to pay heavily afterwards for this indolence and this abdication of authority and evasion of responsibility.
The Failure of Mr. Darcy's Parents
This theme of the effect of upbringing is not confined to the Bennet family. It occurs also in Mr. Darcy's account of himself just after Elizabeth has accepted his proposal of marriage. Mr. Darcy complains that as a child he had been taught what was right but that he had not been taught to correct his temper. He says that he had been spoilt by his parents who had encouraged him to be selfish and over­bearing, and to care only for his own family circle, disregarding everybody else in the world. In other words, Mr. Darcy attributes his pride and egoism to his parents' failure to understand the right values of life. Of that pride he is cured by Elizabeth. Here, then, is a case in which even aristocratic parents failed in their duty.
The Case of Mr. Collins
The theme of the effect of upbringing occurs also in the author's description of Mr. Collins. Here we are told that Mr. Collins was by nature deficient in intelligence and that this deficiency had not been assisted by education or society because the largest part of his life had been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father. Here Jane Austen tells us precisely what makes or mars a human being. Natural endowments (character and intelligence) are important, of course; indeed they are fundamental. Next to them is the way a human being is brought up by his parents. Nor can we ignore the company a man keeps, because the sort of company a man keeps also has its share in educating him and moulding his mind.

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