The Role of Narrator and Its Influence
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen leads the reader through the lives of multiple characters who are all part of the upper-class, Victorian life (a major component of the late 18th and early 19th century). Austen uses a style of writing known as free indirect discourse throughout the novel, which allows her to shift around from character to character, letting the reader in on important details that they wouldn’t otherwise know. Austen’s use of this point of view gives the narration of the novel a classy, upper-hand compared to other British literature of the time. Charlotte Lucas, the best friend of main character Elizabeth Bennet, is one of the characters that Austen uses this point of view to describe. Through the use of free indirect discourse, the narrator in Pride and Prejudice influences the characterization of Charlotte Lucas through the descriptions of Charlotte herself, of her actions, and of her marriage.
The narrator of Pride and Prejudice gives the reader insider information on Charlotte Lucas through the description of Charlotte herself. The first mention of Charlotte is very early on in the novel, and although short, the sentence is very telling. The narrator says, “They (the Lucas’s) had several children. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth’s intimate friend” (Austen 12). The narrator goes on to describe a conversation between Charlotte and Elizabeth concerning the ball that occurred the previous day. In this scene, the reader can see that Charlotte is an extremely rational person. Her decisions are made based on security and logic, not necessarily emotional misgivings. She believes that financial security is the most important thing.
Another telling moment is much later on in the novel, when Charlotte’s inner thoughts are revealed. After the announcement that she is to marry Mr. Collins is made, the narrator says, “…and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. The least agreeable circumstance in the business, was the surprise it must occasion to Elizabeth Bennet…” (94). The narrator’s description of Charlotte’s inner thoughts reveal that she was never exactly beautiful, like Jane, and this has hindered her from getting married. During the time period in which the novel is set, marriage was inevitable. Women didn’t work, and the only way they were to support themselves was through marrying a man. Charlotte was considered nearly an old maid because she was not yet married; she knew that it had to happen or she would be forced to hinder her brothers by living with them for the rest of her life. Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins may have cut a hole in her and Elizabeth’s friendship, but it was the rational thing to do. The narrator’s description of Charlotte gives the reader information on her characterization.
Another thing that the narrator describes that influences the characterization of Charlotte Lucas is her actions. Although Charlotte, like any other woman, has emotions, her emotions are rarely seen by the reader. This action, or lack of action, is something that the reader must take into consideration. The major decision that Charlotte makes in the novel is her acceptance of Mr. Collins’ proposal, and this, as previously stated, is simply the most logical way to progress in her life. Before the marriage was announced, there was no indication that Charlotte even held any affection for Mr. Collins whatsoever. The two had not known each other for long at all when the announcement was made; this is yet another indication that the narrator’s description of Charlotte’s actions in the novel shapes her characterization. Her rational views and unemotional behavior are foreshadowed in her debut scene, when she comments on Jane and Mr. Bingley’s relationship: “I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think that she had as good a chance of happiness, as if she were to be studying his character for twelve-month” (16). This comment shows us that she has no intention of finding a person whom she loves and adores; she just wishes for security and contentment. The narrator’s descriptions of Charlotte’s actions help to shape her characterization throughout the entire novel.
Other than the description of Charlotte’s actions, another way that the narrator uses description to help shape Charlotte’s characterization is through the description of her marriage. This major scene is perhaps the most telling of Charlotte in the entire novel. When Charlotte reveals her engagement to Elizabeth Bennet, a spec of emotion finally shows through. She says, “I see what you are feeling…you must be surprised, very much surprised…but when you think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know” (96). When she tries to tell her best friend her reasoning behind what she has done, she does feel slightly guilty. However, it was an opportunity that she couldn’t pass. She explains further: “I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state” (96). This scene is when the narrator truly shows Charlotte’s character, not just hints at it. Charlotte is not greedy, selfish, or vain; she just wants to be secure. This is a quality that the reader can admire as the novel comes to a close with the announcement of her pregnancy.
In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas is depicted as a plain, sensible woman. Her characterization is revealed through the narrator’s description of Charlotte herself, her actions, and her marriage. In the end, the reader can only wonder if Charlotte is truly happy with the way her life turned out. However, if the reader looks closely at these descriptions, they can deduce that maybe Charlotte never wanted happiness, at least not in the way that most people perceive it. She wanted contentment.
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