Conflict in “Pride and Prejudice”
In order for a novel to become credited and well known, and for the authors audience to stay interested and engaged in the storyline, there needs to be a conflict of some sort, or a contrast that creates conflict. This can be achieved through a foil. A foil is a minor character who contrasts the main character so greatly, that the main character’s traits are emphasized even further. A foil doesn’t have to be an antagonist that plots against the character. The foil also does not have to possess negative or evil qualities. In the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the foil would be Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is the very egotistical and pretentious cousin of the main character, Ms. Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Collins’ personality emphasizes the strengths of Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a very confident, outspoken and opinionated young woman who struggles to stay independent in a society where she’s pressured to give in to conformity. Mr. Collins purpose is to make Elizabeth more likeable and more of a hero in the readers’ eyes.
In the scenes where there is interaction between Mr. Collins and Elizabeth, it is able to be seen that Elizabeth’s character is easily more admired than in the scenes where she is alone or with another character who is not acting as a foil. When Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, and ends his lengthy and self-centered declaration of love, he does not take her first rejection seriously because according to him, “”young ladies [usually] reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor. . .”” (Austen 73). This quote shows the arrogance of Mr. Collins that has been seen previously when he was introduced by Austen, who included this dialogue purposely to intensify the dislike of Mr. Collins and the hope that Elizabeth rejects his proposal. Elizabeth sternly tells him, “”your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time”” (Austen 73). By making such a strong refusal of his proposal, and standing her ground when it comes to her beliefs even as he pressures her to accept it, she becomes more likeable to the audience as she is viewed as a strong and independent character. The relationship between Elizabeth and her foil, Mr. Collins, satirizes and mocks the society that Jane Austen lived in. Austen’s main purpose for her novels is to mock the society in which she lived though, which was so focused upon wealth, marriage, and social status, that it blinded them to the other traits needed for a successful marriage. Mr. Collins was the exaggerated version of a small-minded culture, but his representation was enough that Austen was able to voice her opinions on the subject.
Even more strength and independence is seen in Elizabeth when Mrs. Bennet is trying to pressure her into marrying Mr. Collins right after she had rejected his proposal. Seeing how much Mrs. Bennet “”talked to Elizabeth again and again; coaxed and threatened her by turns”” (Austen 76-77), Elizabeth still wouldn’t give into her: “”Though her manner varied however, her determination never did”” (Austen 77). The previous quote is essential to the scene. It shows how her determination and faith in what she believes in surrounding the meanings of marriage never wavered. She very well could have given in to the pressure from her mother along with society, like other women living in her time, but she chose to but herself and her beliefs first. Again, it can be seen the Mr. Collins indirectly shows the strengths in the personality of Elizabeth Bennet. This shows Austen’s purpose of creating characters that are opposite of the social norms of her day and the opposite of what a woman was expected to be. Austen creates Elizabeth to be such a likable character so as to portray her views and beliefs as likeable as well.
Austen helped to portray her perception of her society through Elizabeth Bennet’s eyes, thoughts, and actions, and her foil, Mr. Collins, contrasted her so greatly that he served to only greater her positive image in the readers’ eyes. Without him being so contrasting to Elizabeth, much of the effect on the reader that Elizabeth currently has would have been lost. Without Mr. Collins, Elizabeth would not be seen as the strong, outgoing, independent woman that she is.