Critical Analysis of James Sherry’s Pride and Prejudice: The Limits of Society In this critical analysis James Sherry comes across a few critics that mention the word society and what it means in the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. According to Sherry the meaning that critics like Walton Litz give society is that it’s “sociological attraction-an institution, a set of laws, or a tradition”. (pg 610) Sherry feels that for Jane Austen the word had a different meaning, and supports his idea by giving examples of how the word is used by characters.
Sherry believes that society has nothing to do with conventions, laws, or tradition, he stresses that “the presence of other individuals with whom it’s either a duty or a pleasure to mix”. (pg 611) is the real meaning behind the word society. In order to establish this notion Sherry explores the responsibility some characters have in the novel to be open (social), how some have to engage and be responsive members of a community (forced to be sociable), and how some of the characters are in need of privacy(unsociable).
In all three concepts the characters are restricted under the limits of their society and the characters interact with each other is a simple result of the limits. Sherry begins by comparing some of the characters in the novel, and how each character lives under the limits of society. He introduces Mr Bingley who falls under the category of being social. Mr Bingley is “everything a sociable gentleman should be-lively, open, unreserved with a pleasant countenance and agreeable manner”. (pg 612) He immediately begins talking with everyone at the party and is liked because of that.
His ability to be open to people creates this idea that he is social with everyone, especially with Jane who he becomes interested in. The Bennett’s with the exception of Elizabeth and her father fall under the same category as Mr. Bingley. Mrs Bennett in particular, looks for her daughters to marry men of wealth. There for she longs for social events to happen in order to create the partnership between her daughters and the wealthier families. Sherry continues to explain social limits by describing how Elizabeth’s character is throughout the novel.
Elizabeth is casted as playing a role “ of ironic commentator and has even suggested that her irony is subversive of society”,( pg 614) that is to say that because she occasionally laughs at the other characters and comments on their stupidity, her ways are characterized as ironic. Elizabeth like her sisters are thrown into a situation where they have to be social whether they like it or not. Sherry implies that even her “occasional bitterness arise not from some real detachment from society, but from too great a dependence upon its merely superficial aspects”. pg 614) Elizabeth’s lack of involvement makes her character seem bitter and unsociable, but perhaps she looks bitter because she’s tired of the superficiality of the society which she belongs to. Sherry ends his critical analysis by analyzing how Darcy and the Bingley sisters differ from the other characters in the novel.
Darcy is seen as unsociable, unlike Mr. Bingley Darcy is completely anti social, he’s reserved and declines being introduced to anyone, talks to people of his own party, and dances only twice. He feels not the slightest interest in any other people at the assembly and in return is heartily disliked because of it”. (pg 613) Darcy is “guilty by association” because the Bingley sisters are proud and conceited, and have become so enamored by their beauty, wealth and rank that they now are allowed to think well of themselves. The way the Bingley sisters are in a way rub onto Darcy because they belong to the same social rank. Sherry feels like these characters are in need of privacy and that’s the reason why they’re considered to be antisocial.
This privacy also comes from the fact that the social bystanders by which Darcy and the Bingley sisters are held by are the same that the Bennett’s are held by as well. In other words, if they are at a high rank why would they want to be associated with people that are at a lower rank? Sherry pin points outstanding revelations about society in the novel and in society in general. People are held under the limits of the presence of other individuals with whom it’s either a duty or a pleasure to mix.
When you come across certain people you are willing to act a certain way in order to play the part and fit under specific social norms. In the novel some characters fall under the limits and others have a little trouble conforming under the limits of society. Depending on what type of social gathering you’re in you are then characterized as social or antisocial, the truth of the matter is that being social doesn’t take into consideration whether you are comfortable in the environment.