Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yin and Yang in Pride and Prejudice

A second post on Pride and Prejudice.

To understand the hero’s journey, a reader must be aware that the underlying issue is psychological rather than a reflection of life. In general, the meeting, fussing, and melding of the hero and heroine is about the integration of yin and yang within each of us or the acceptance of the conflicting opposites of self; men accepting their feminine side, and women accepting their masculine. Most romance stories are expected to end with happily ever after or at the very least a happy for right now, ending. This union creates the required ending -- the soul has integrated assimilating all aspects of itself forever.

Perhaps you disagree. Why isn’t a romance just a romance? Anyone who has been in love knows that there are facets of the person they love which they do not understand, that within any healthy real relationship there will always be conflict and that even soul-mates have occasionally gone their separate ways. We know change comes with time, and even the most perfectly paired partners may grow apart. Accepting that happy ever after is about this unification, and the gratification arising from our inner being makes sense.

If the yin-yang part is true, then do the other characters in a novel represent a part of the reader’s psyche? Simply, yes. They are archetypes representing characters present in mythology and folklore from around the world, and from our very dreams: mentors, heralds, shapeshifters, shadows, and tricksters. Does Pride and Prejudice have them? Yes, it does, starting with allies and enemies present right within Lizzy’s family.

As parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are obvious mentors. It is important to note all mentors don’t give sage advice, because in reading Pride and Prejudice, both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are often portrayed as self-serving. Perhaps by the standards of the early 19th Century, they were good parents, but from some of the author’s observations, I doubt it.

Lizzy admits to Lady Catherine that her family had no governess, yet all the girls seemed educated. They could all read and write, and Mary seems to delve into books for her amusement. Who taught them? My guess, Mr. Bennet as a good mentor. Who else could have? He lives in his library to escape Mrs. Bennet. He has passed his love of observing the foibles of his contemporaries to Lizzy, the child closest to his heart.

As Lizzy’s closest sister and ally in all things, Jane often acts as a mentor. She cautions Lizzy about listening to Mr. Wickham’s gossip about Mr. Darcy. It is partially on Jane’s behalf that Lizzy rejects Mr. Darcy’s first offer of marriage.

Mary, as middle sister, is almost an outsider. She is neither close to her older sisters who are the more beautiful and brighter, nor is she a companion to her younger, much sillier sisters. Her bon mots and the inappropriate quotations garnered from her studies drive not only her family to laughter but also the reader. She is a rather vague character, overlooked by everyone, even Mr. Collins for whom she might have made a perfect wife. The reader learns she is the least attractive of her sisters, loves music but is too pedantic for a good performer. So what is her function? My guess is that Mary stumbles through the story as an ineffectual family herald. Her words often give hint to the troubles her sisters will face.

Kitty and Lydia I’m placing together, as Kitty alone has no function. She barely has a purpose as a character except as an inhibitor for Lydia's wilder silliness. For much of Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Kitty are tricksters, a characters whose purpose is comedic relief, and whose mischief brings about change. Together these youngest sisters bring Jane and Lizzy back to earth, embarrassing Jane and her before the higher society Mr. Darcy and the Bingley represent. They impede their older sisters from reaching too high. When Lydia is removed from the family, and particularly from her counter-part Kitty, to go with the Fosters, Lydia changes to a shadow. A shadow represents those evil impulses we think about in our darkest soul, but seldom act upon. When Lydia runs away with Mr.Wickham, she ruins not only her own reputation, but those of her sisters.

Next ... Lizzy's mythic ordeal.

The five posts on Lizzy's journey:

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful analysis, Rhobin. I LOVE Pride and Prejudice. (Who doesn't??) And I agree with your point about Mary being the perfect wife for Mr. Collins. That he doesn't consider Mary, shows him to be even shallower than the reader perceives at first!