I Just Want the Best For You:
Understanding Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
How many times have we heard our parents say, “I just want what’s best for you, honey”? Often, this comes as their response during an argument when we refuse to listen to their requests. What is hard for us to consider is the fact that, the discrepancy between the cultural and environmental backgrounds of our parents may differ harshly from our own. Therefore, even though our parents really do want what’s best for us, it may not feel that way for us, their children. In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Mrs. Bennet is portrayed as a woman whose only goal in life is to marry off her daughters. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, there are no explanations or excuses provided for Mrs. Bennet’s actions, unlike the other novels, such as Beloved by Toni Morrison or Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. And yet, Mrs. Bennet shares a similarity with the other mothers; As a mother, she wants to make sure that her daughters live happily in a society where a woman’s happiness is determined by wealth and reputation and wealth of the man she marries.
I believe the reason why Mrs. Bennet is often overlooked is the fact that she does not have any particular traits that encourage readers to become attached to her. How can readers be attached to a woman who is blinded by her ambition to marry her daughters off to any rich available bachelors she meets? What readers need to realize is that this is the only way of life Mrs. Bennet understands. As the narrator says:
[Mrs. Bennet] was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. (3 – 4)
Similar to Mrs. Bennet, the mothers from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook Shin also faced educational, economical, and societal limitations as women. In a way, many of these mothers are women of “mean understanding” and “little information” which can lead to them having “uncertain” tempers. What these women know is that the best thing they can do for their daughters is to make sure that they are married into a rich family. Even though Mrs. Bennet can come off as an obstinate mother to the rest of her family as well as to the readers, her obstinacy comes from her deep love for her daughters. When considering the reason for her actions, Mrs. Bennet becomes a sympathetic woman. What kind of mother would not want what Mrs. Bennet wants for her own daughters? Mrs. Bennet’s concern for her daughters is seen when she asks Mr. Collins about Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter. When Mr. Collins says Lady De Bough’s daughter is “…the only one daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property” (83), Mrs. Bennet’s response is, “Ah!…[T]hen she is better off than many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? Is she handsome?” (83). Therefore, even as she comes up with plans to marry off her daughters, she is constantly interested in the status of other unmarried ladies. When she compares her daughters to Lady Catherine’s daughter, it is obvious that her daughters are constantly on Mrs. Bennet’s mind, and being concerned about their marriages is the only way she knows of showing love to them.
The similarity that mothers share universally is the sacrifice they make for their children. The mothers of The Joy Luck Club had wanted for their daughters to understand the sacrifices their mothers had made for them. In a way, Mrs. Bennet is doing the same thing. She is sacrificing her connections to provide the right connections for her daughters. The unfortunate part of this is that she is so busy thinking of her daughter’s futures that she has no time to sit down and explain to them why she is doing what she is doing. Mrs. Bennet is only satisfied when she believes that “…she might soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces” (88). Even though Mrs. Bennet might feel content from just thinking about her daughters getting married, her daughters may not feel the same way. This shows that what mothers want for their daughters, and what their daughters want for themselves can be very different. The one pattern that stands out among these mothers and daughters is the fact that they never clearly communicate with each other about what their intentions are. The mothers never really explain to their daughters what they want from them and why. The daughters also never bother to ask their mothers the intentions for their actions, and they never explain to their mothers what kind of life they are envisioning for themselves. What this results in, then, is an inevitable conflict between mothers and daughters.
At some point, mothers need to think about whether their goals are shaped by their own societal experiences, which they then pass down to their daughters, without thinking of the different societal experiences their daughters are experiencing at the current moment. The hopes and goals the mothers pass down to their daughters may no longer be relevant, since their daughters are probably living in a completely different society.
At the end of the novel, the narrator of the novel says:
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly. (474)
With her two daughters married, Mrs. Bennet is filled with delighted pride. Even though marriages are not simple, Mrs. Bennet’s goal in life is simply for her daughters to marry well. It does not take much to make Mrs. Bennet happy, and her goal in life is not to do anything for herself, but to make sure her children are ensured happy lives. Because women face more limitations than men, the goals mothers have for their daughters may be more particular than their goals for their sons, and this is no different for Mrs. Bennet. Even though many daughters may be too frustrated with their mothers to realize this, they need to remember one thing, and it is this: The one goal that a mother has is to provide the best she can for her children.
Austen, Jane. Free EBooks. http://www.planetebook.com/ebooks/Pride-and-Prejudice.pdf.