Social Sensitivity

Pride and Prejudice contains no violent or explicit scenes and adults should feel comfortable that it is appropriate for young readers. Nevertheless, the novel does present as “normal” certain attitudes that few readers share today. The class system imposes unwritten rules on who may marry or socialize with whom. Young readers may profit from learning about other manifestations of class discrimination: injustice, social unrest, and the leveling of aspirations.

Also, the novel does not question or challenge the inferior position allotted to women in early nineteenth-century country life. Mr. Bennet’s daughters cannot inherit his property, and they receive less schooling than do males of the landed gentry. Twenty-seven-year-olds such as Charlotte Lucas marry lesser men for fear of wearing the label “spinster” at thirty. Women cannot work and thus are economically dependent upon men. For women, “success” is defined solely in terms of marriage and domestic affairs-in short, in terms of what they provide for men. But even in the home-Mr. Bennet’s weakness notwithstanding-the father controls the money and holds ultimate authority. That Elizabeth is even considered “rebellious” is one measure of the restriction of women; her actions surely would not earn her that label today.

Teachers and other adults may find it helpful to discuss gender roles and sex discrimination with young readers. While Elizabeth has been called a pioneer for sexual equality (she tells Mrs. Gardiner that she will marry Wickham or whomever else she pleases), she does in fact take rather nicely to her appointed role in the end.