The Individualization of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice

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The Individualization of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice

Midway through Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet arrives at a moment of self-awakening which, notably, results from the influence of someone else: Fitzwilliam Darcy. For critic Susan Fraiman, this complication amounts to no less than, as she titles her article, "The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet." From this moment forward, according to Fraiman, Elizabeth Bennet ceases to think for herself. She submits to Darcy as to a second father, relinquishes her trust in her own judgments, and thereby suffers a "loss of clout."1 This pivotal moment comes because, after Elizabeth has rejected his proposal, Darcy justifies himself in a lengthy letter. It is
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By accepting the fact that she has misjudged Darcy, Wickham, Jane, and Bingley, Elizabeth sharpens her ability to discern character. In turn, she develops a solidly based self-confidence.

Before Elizabeth's independent judgments can be formed, she must work her way painstakingly out of her existing prejudice. It is true that Darcy essentially forces his letter into Elizabeth's consciousness. He has no other choice. The day after Elizabeth has rejected him, he waits along the path where she takes her morning walks, waylays her when she tries to avoid him, and even then must thrust his letter at her. Elizabeth's impetus to free herself from her initial prejudice against Darcy is, thus, involuntary. Because Elizabeth naturally seeks truth, she "instinctively" (129) takes the letter from the hands of this man who has so offended her that she cannot believe "any apology to be in his power" (134). Unable to shut out all reason completely, Elizabeth begins to move beyond her hatred. "With the strongest curiosity," (129) she focuses on the unalterable truth of Darcy's letter. Attention to Darcy's viewpoint is essential for the reader as well as for Elizabeth. Throughout the text, the reader has viewed Darcy's character mainly through the filter of Elizabeth's prejudice. Even Darcy's proposal, which should have indicated the beginning of Darcy's redemption, is distorted into Elizabeth's version: Austen does
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