Pauline Cronin Searching for Self, 12 Mrs. Edwards April 22, 2013
Searching for Self in Society Pride and Prejudice In setting her novel in Regency England, Jane Austen places her characters in a hierarchical ruled society dominated by the aristocracy and their strict protocols. Women of the middle and upper classes abided by the standards which gave women the sole role of marrying well specifically to better their family’s status and affluence in society. Elizabeth Bennett, the novel’s protagonist, is a headstrong and opinionated young woman who, along with her older and more passive sister, Jane, is pressured by her familial situation into finding a husband. Lizzy must marry well, as she is from a genteel family of five daughters, and therefore there is no male heir to assume the entailment. In her endeavor to find a suitable husband, Elizabeth encounters obstacles which prevent her from marrying for love. When the wealthy and powerful Fitzwilliam Darcy enters Lizzy’s life, their first impressions of one another are purely based on societal prejudices. Darcy’s pride and narcissism that stemmed from his status and wealth makes him prejudiced against Elizabeth, who is of a lower status. Lizzy’s, therefore, instantly judges Darcy by his pride, becoming prejudiced herself. Darcy begins to fall in love with Elizabeth, and proposes to her, not realizing that his own narcissism prevents Elizabeth from loving him. However, it is after she rejects Darcy’s self-centered proposal and reads his letter expressing his humbleness and helplessness from having pride in a society
which exalts it, that the protagonist has a change of heart. She then views Pemberley, a symbol of Darcy, not for its opulence and immensity, but for its lack of “any artificial appearance.” As she begins to see Darcy for who he truly is, Lizzy realizes that she, herself, is flawed, and that her prejudices of Darcy blinded her from realizing that “To be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” Therefore, it is only after Lizzy is able to identify the pride and prejudice within herself and reject them can she separate herself from the society that thrives off of them, and can live a life filled with love and happiness. Crime and Punishment By setting his novel in St. Petersburg which was then the capital of Russia, Dostoevsky draws attention to the miserable social conditions that existed in Russia during the late 19th Century. His protagonist, Raskolnikov walks through the overcrowded, dirty streets of St. Petersburg, where he witnesses the shattered hopes of the lower classes. He kills Alena Ivanovnna, a miserly pawnbroker who profits from the misery of people in the direst circumstances. This pride and heroic complex that Raskolnikov displays serves as his suit of armor, as he believes he is superior to others, and therefore can transgress moral standards to (what he thinks will)benefit the greater good. Therefore, his philosophical and egocentric desire to test himself impels him to commit his crime, and Raskolnikov rationalizes his murder of the pawnbroker by believing that he is ridding the earth of a “louse” for the benefit of the people. However, he soon undergoes severe psychological punishment for his crime, and comes to terms with his isolation. He begins to realize that “it was no longer possible for him to address these people in the police station, not only with heartfelt effusions, as he had just done,
but in any way at all.” Raskolnikov realizes that by killing the pawnbroker, he has killed off all possible communication with society, as no system of morality condones murder. Raskolnikov undergoes a self-realization which forces him to confront his true motives for the crime. He realizes that he “simply murdered...for [himself] alone” (354), in order to see if he was truly a sort of “Napoleon” who could transcend the normal laws that bind all ordinary people. Raskolnikov finally relinquishes the belief that he is not a super human in realizing that truly exceptional men do not need to test themselves. After falling in love with Sonya, Raskolnikov is able to redeem himself from his crime, as his suffering and confusion teach him how to feel again. Sonya helps Raskolnikov transition from a purely instinctual and prideful man who believed himself to be extraordinary, to a good man willing to suffer for his sins. Crime and Punishment, therefore, is a catalyst through which Dostoevsky reminds the readers of the meaninglessness of a life centered on impulse and intellect, devoid of any spiritual influence.
Heart of Darkness In Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, Heart of Darkness, the protagonist, Marlow, sets off on a journey into the wild jungle of the African Congo. Marlow sets sail when the Belgians and many Europeans, believing themselves to be missionaries, colonize Africa to bestow the “gift” of civilization on Africans. This mask of good-will, when unveiled, reveals a dark, corrupt, method of imperialism, as Europeans were exploiting Africa for its natural resources and labor. Most of Marlow’s employers see Kurtz, a successful ivory trader, as the pinnacle of all things cultured and civilized, while in reality, Kurtz had driven himself mad over his internal struggle between his European imperialistic nature and his desire to possess the free-spirited, raw nature of the natives. As Marlow ventures
into the wilderness, he continues to see these hypocrisies and slowly begins to unveil them as he journeys deeper into the “Heart of Darkness.” Interacting with the Africans, Marlow begins revile the European’s inhumane treatment of them. As he witnesses the pathetic incompetence of the Belgians, he begins to see the African natives as “Not inhuman…If you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest traces of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of their being a meaning in it which you could comprehend.” Marlow’s ability to identify a part of himself with the Africans signifies his rejection of the traditional views of the imperialists, who do not see the conquered native Africans as human. In setting himself apart from the European mindset and finally seeing Kurtz for who he truly was, a man who lost himself trying to reconcile his imperialistic façade with his human connection to the Africans, Marlow becomes a modern thinker, and is able to make readers aware of the rampant hypocrisies of his time.
Sonyaâ€™s Reflection Like the Cramped corners of Dirty, Dark tenements that rendered our bodies smelly, sweaty in their confinement of our social class, that imprison the impoverished people whom he tries to help, So did Raskolnikov's Arrogance and attempt at a Secular indulgence in reason box his mind into a corner of Confusion and Isolation. For crouched over a hard wood desk, scrawling by candlelight, this self-proclaimed "Napoleon", yet nothing but a poor youth, reconciled his assumed Supremacy with the right to transgress the laws of society that bind the brothers and sisters whom he Disdained. In this cry for emotional and intellectual transcendence and in a humanitarian passion did he sink his axe into the skull of an old pawnbroker, my dear friendâ€™s sister, who took from the poor, feeling her hot blood flow over his hands, and thrust himself into the torment of Secrecy and Guilt. His knees
hit the ground of the wide open crossroads, as he achieves Humility and inner Peace in Confessing his crime to the people of his community and to God, under the Pure Light of the sun. For it is only through the courage instilled in him by his Love for me, who Dostoevsky called the pious one, who prostituted herself out of love for her destitute family, that he can once more find Spiritual Understanding, Belonging with humanity, Redemption.
Published on Apr 22, 2013