Sample Reflection Paper: The Impact of Social Class in Pride and Prejudice

Reflection PaperLiterature

reflection paper is a written project that details the writer’s thoughts on a particular topic and is usually written in the form of an essay . The response is often generated following a period of deep reflection. In this sample reflection paper on literature, the writer discusses thoughts regarding how social class impacts the narrative in Jane Austen’s novel  Pride and Prejudice.

Since Jane Austen’s celebrated work Pride and Prejudice came out over two hundred years ago, the way people perceive the novel has undergone tremendous changes. Considered an incisive commentary on class relations at the time of its publication, modern readers now tend to view it as more of a romance novel with an impressive feminist perspective. Relations between social classes are certainly still acknowledged as an important theme in the novel, but it may be quite difficult to imagine how this theme relates to modern life. But as I read the work and thought about the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, I realized that the connection between the novel and the world today is far more prominent than many recognize. Social class relations are not merely a theme in the novel; rather, it is the very force that drives the narrative. In the same way, social class remains an influential force in our lives today, from the choices people make when it comes to their romantic lives to opportunities that come their way.

Firstly, closely reading Pride and Prejudice  has made me realize just how influential social class is in steering the narrative. For one, social class is the root of the novel’s overarching conflict. The novel opens with a predicament: The Bennet family has five unmarried daughters, which means that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet will have to search for suitable matches that will secure the future of their children. This main conflict begs the question of why the daughters need to be married off to well-to-do men in the first place. The family is by no means impoverished and qualifies as landed gentry (middle class with an estate). The reason has to do with the entail, which is a legal provision that restricts the inheritance of the estate to male heirs. The novel clarifies in Chapter 7 that “Mr. Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation.” Unable to inherit and with very limited opportunities for gainful employment, the Bennet daughters must therefore rely on marriage for their future comfort. The Bennet’s predicament, in turn, reveals how social class, in this case, the Bennet daughters’ gender, underlies the central conflict. Women at the time were a distinct social class expected to remain within the domestic sphere as wives and mothers. If the law did not privilege men when it came to inheritances and if women had more opportunities for gainful employment at the time, then the central conflict of Pride and Prejudice would not exist. Hence, the restrictions imposed on women exhibit just how central social class is to the novel.

Apart from being the root of the central conflict, social class also impacts many of the subplots in the story, particularly those concerning the matches of the Bennet sisters. Chief among these is the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Despite obviously being in love with Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy is for a considerable span of time held back by the fact that Elizabeth comes from a lower station compared to him. Mr. Darcy is clearly upper class whereas Elizabeth has a modest background. As Mr. Darcy reveals to Elizabeth himself in Chapter 34, “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?” That Mr. Darcy is torn between his attraction to Elizabeth and his frustration over her lower status reveals the power that social class wields over the characters’ lives. But whereas Mr. Darcy’s thoughts on social class are mere reservations, they become full grounds for disdain in the case of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who minces no words in telling Elizabeth what she thinks of the Bennets: “And is such a girl to be my nephew’s sister? Is her husband, who is the son of his late father’s steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” (Chapter 56). In response, Elizabeth reminds Lady Catherine that she is the daughter of a gentleman and therefore is basically equal to the wealthy Mr. Darcy. Even until the end of the novel, social class relations influence the story. That social class and the tacit rules that govern their relations serve as the beginning and the end of the novel is proof of the centrality of this theme in Pride and Prejudice.

Despite the fact that two centuries have passed since the novel was published, the influential role social class exhibits in the novel have not really disappeared. For instance, people like to think that difference in social class is no longer a barrier to marriage, but this is far from the truth. It may not be as pronounced as before, but social class is still a factor countless people consider when making romantic decisions. For example, people tend to marry within their own social station. Of course, slight differences no longer matter. A lower middle class person marrying an upper middle class person no longer ruffles feathers as it does in the novel. But marriage between a working class person and an upper class person will certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. Indeed, marriages between members of the world’s 1% and those from very humble backgrounds are almost unheard of, and when they do happen they are the subject of equal parts admiration, skepticism, criticism, and speculation. Whether people acknowledge it or not, they are still bound by norms that govern social class relations when it comes to romantic choices.

The impact of social class, however, extends well beyond romantic life. The categories that people find themselves in have far-reaching social, cultural, and economic consequences. For example,  changing gender roles has certainly opened new avenues for women, but sexism remains a real problem, manifesting itself in various forms of inequality such as the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling . A person’s position in the socioeconomic hierarchy also correlates with the degree of social mobility. Rich people just have far more options and opportunities for progress whereas people further down the socioeconomic ladder have fewer chances and face more hurdles. This is particularly true given how the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth is leading to  rising rates of poverty across the world.

Many readers might think that Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is some kind of delightful relic from a bygone era. In many ways this is true. Western society has certainly gone through tremendous changes in the past two centuries. But while many parts of the novel may be foreign to readers today, social class relations remain real in the modern period. This theme may manifest in different ways now but they remain as influential as ever. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

Work Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York, Penguin Publishing Group, 2009.

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