The first introduction to this character occurs in the very first chapter with light banter between herself and her husband. Immediately a stark contrast becomes very apparent between the two heads of the Bennet household. Mr. Bennet comes off as a nonchalant character who remains relatively unbothered by trivial things whilst Mrs. Bennet is very flustered over the arrival of a new man to the neighborhood which presents Mr. Bennet as a foil to his wife. In response to his wifes outburst, Mr. Bennet does not give her his full attention and continues with his task at hand, thus, this creates the feeling that most of what Mrs. Bennet rambles on about is actually of no importance and holds no real value when it comes to the male characters lives. Do not you want to know who has taken it? cried his wife impatiently. You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it (Austen 9). In this part of the novel it is evident that Mr. Bennet does not care all too much for what his wife is speaking about, but he still maintains a respectable aura by phrasing his response in such a way that would not necessarily draw offence. However, Mrs. Bennet realizes this and proceeds to take control of the situation by taking this as an invitation to speak and thus turns the topic into one that will interest him by bringing up his favorite child, Elizabeth. This continues to be a normal occurrence throughout the novel that remains unnoticed by all other characters.
During the Regency time period of England, women were expected to marry and have children as soon as they reached an appropriate age. The laws of England also made it to where a woman was to marry and be taken care of by her husband due to the fact that married women could not own property and would hold no wealth. The main idea of this time period was that middle and upper class women should always be dependent on a man whether it be as a daughter or as a wife. If a female decides to marry, which most upper/ middle class women did, it would define her entire future. Depending on whom she marries, her social status, duties, and economic position could be changed drastically. In addition to this, the mother or wife was to do everything in her power to please her family and therefore, keep her wants or needs to a minimum. Due to their submission, obedience, and air of innocence, it was believed that a woman should be kept within the safety of her home or husband as to not be corrupted or victimized by the outside world. Once in a relationship, women faced many different societal constraints, but to even reach that point in her life, she was expected to have a vast knowledge in subjects such as dancing and music whilst also looking presentable at all times. If she did not reach these requirements, she was thought to be plain or was most often deemed to be overlooked by all males that she may encounter. Mrs. Bennet, throughout the novel, expresses a vast knowledge in the way that society expects a woman to behave and lead her life, hence her so called simple- mindedness which is something that was to be expected of a woman in this time period.
In this novel, it opens with the lines It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife (Austen 10). This is something that Mrs. Bennet chooses to live by as well as something that she chooses to make her daughters aware of. Instead of accepting that society holds constraints against females, she changes this to a mindset that is beneficial to her which does not put such a burden on her life. Instead of believing that one should push themselves to reach the standards of a man, she understands that a man is also very much in need of a woman. Although, a man can remain unmarried and still be socially accepted, it was far more acceptable to be married and to have children. This interpretation of life has allowed Mrs. Bennet to give aid to Elizabeths defiance of the eras patriarchy. In the novel it also states how a male only looks at a woman to criticize, however, Elizabeth has grown to do just that when it comes to the observation of other males. A multitude of times she has expressed her interpretation of another individuals character which is an unusual thing for a lady to do. Whilst the majority of women are obsessive over themselves and their presentation, Mrs. Bennet and her girls, especially at the ball, stand off to the side in order to evaluate the men in attendance. Instead of accepting the pressures presented by society, Mrs. Bennet takes all of her knowledge of this in order to make society work in her favor.
Through the actions of her mother, Elizabeth Bennet, the poster child for patriarchal defiance in this novel, is given the tools necessary to challenge the ways of the societal class in which she resides in. Whilst she is in fact encouraged to be herself and to speak her mind, Elizabeth is also taught by her mother that in order to express individualism, one must also find its social limits. In opposition to this statement, the character of Lady Catherine is introduced. This character happens to be the only financially independent female in the novel, however, she is casted in an overbearing light. This is to show that a woman with a large amount of power and no self- awareness is a negative combination that will often lead to making a fool of oneself. Although Mrs. Bennet allows her second eldest daughter to push the limits of what is expected of women, she is also quick to correct her actions when they have the possibility to draw offence amongst whomever she is speaking to. This often occurs when Miss Bennet is conversing with a male character or a character that precedes her in social status. She is often chastised for speaking in an ill manner towards these individuals due to Mrs. Bennets understanding of the fact that an individual of their status is required to make connections with those above them if they wish to climb the social ranks of their society and gain the small amount of control/ power available to a woman in this era. In addition to the previous statements, Mrs. Bennet does not hound her younger children with the responsibilities that come with being a woman, especially with the idea of marriage. While they are very cognizant that they will have to marry once they reach an older age such as Jane and Elizabeths, their mother does not pester them continuously with the thoughts of eligible bachelors and/ or their responsibility to look presentable when in the presence of male individuals. This is further explained when Elizabeth states in the novel that her younger siblings should learn to enjoy life rather than look into marrying early despite the thoughts that society has on the topic. In response to this, Mary speaks of the small amounts of freedom that she enjoys which come in the forms of entertainment. These are all ideals that would most likely have come from their mother who is required in that position to take care of all things regarding the raising of any children she may have. So whilst Elizabeth is praised by readers for her actions towards the defiance of her societys rules towards her gender, it is actually the actions and teachings of her mother that have prompted such responses from one of the eldest Bennet sisters.
When the infamous Mr. Collins makes an appearance in the Bennet household, Mrs. Bennet once again disproves the most common interpretation of her by analyzing the actions of the male guest. Upon his arrival, Mr. Collins speaks praise of his cousins by praising the materialistic items of Longbourn such as the furniture and rooms. His talk of this expresses the idea that his societal class has a usual habit of connecting objects to people. Mrs. Bennets recognition of this leads her to ensure that her home is up to her standards as well as any individuals that may be visiting. She also speaks of other characters homes with a sense of judgment while in the company of her daughters to make them accustomed to the idea that they too are able to judge the character of a man in the same way that they do to women. In the novel, it is often stated that the male characters only look at a woman to in order to criticize. Mrs. Bennet evens the playing field for her daughters through these subtle actions. By copying the actions of the male society in a subtle way as to not draw any negative attention, the Bennet sisters have come to adopt these actions and incorporate them into their everyday lives. It is not uncommon for them to judge the world the same way the men of the novel do despite the fact that this is not normal for the other women that are present. Thus, this furthers the idea that the appearance of being rather un- intelligent is just a deceptive fa?ade utilized by Mrs. Bennet to gain the upper hand in any given social situation.
The novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one that reflects the social norms of Regency England through the thoughts and actions of a multitude of characters. Amongst these characters, Mrs. Bennet is one that is not only misinterpreted by many readers, but she is also a character that challenges the way of the world around her. Although her actions that challenge society arent as prominent as those of her daughter Elizabeths, they are quite impactful. The way in which she presents herself allows her to blend in with other women and to maintain the simple- minded appearance. However, she is far from un- intelligent. In any situation she finds herself in, she is able to analyze the social norms and expectations of others in order to subtly make the situation work in her favor. This is seen many times through her interactions with her husband and other male characters that she encounters. Knowing that her daughters will follow in her footsteps, she in turn teaches them how to challenge the patriarchal society they live in without allowing anyone to catch onto these actions. Since she is very cognizant of what society expects a woman to do and how she must behave, she makes this a key lesson for her daughters to learn. With the capability of appearing as a perfect woman, the actions she takes to gain power in social situations goes unnoticed by all around her. Although Mrs. Bennet may appear to be as simple- minded as all other females in this novel, it is fa?ade that deceives all.