There are many cases in the novel where Elizabeth appears superior to her society. One example is when Mr Darcy mocks her when he meets her for the first time: ” She [Elizabeth] is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Instead of being ashamed and hiding her embarrassment, Elizabeth tells everyone about what he said which mocks herself to make the opinion of him in the crowd go from admiration to disgust: ‘ She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.’
Also, because of Mr Darcy’s incredible wealth and importance, it is against social etiquette that an inferior such as herself should mock him, which she is readily prepared to do. Mr Darcy should be treated with respect and courtesy because he is the richest man there (with ten thousand pounds annual income) and the best connections as he is the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. At Netherfield when Miss Bingley says that Mr Darcy should be treated in this way, Elizabeth’s reply is “Mr Darcy is not to be laughed at? That is an uncommon advantage.” She then carries on teasing him with an almost ironic declaration, ” I am perfectly convinced… that Mr Darcy has no defect.”
Another example of Elizabeth defying her society and its conventions is when she goes to Netherfield on foot, early in the morning, after it had been raining to visit her sister Jane who is ill there. Miss Binlgley and Mrs Hurst find this astonishing: ‘that she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley.’
Her general wit in conversation is very subtle and Jane Austen mocks characters of society through Elizabeth mocking the characters in the novel. For example, she defies social convention by mocking Mr Darcy, the proud, very rich and important man. It appears that many of the major characters in the novel have personalities that fit the extremes of convention. For example, Miss Bingley and Mr Collins, who are less important characters in the novel have a strict following of social expectation, they never do anything out of the ordinary.
Elizabeth is far superior to her family. In the case of her sisters, she appears to advantage; besides her younger sisters, she falls between the extremes of silliness (Lydia) and seriousness (Mary), which they represent. She is far superior to her mother’s limited intelligence and her obsession with finding men for her daughters. These defects are particularly emphasised by Elizabeth’s father who is constantly mocking his wife. Elizabeth is even slightly superior to Jane, her elder sister who appears to trust people and respect their good qualities, too much which makes her judgement clouded on deciding between a genuinely kind person and someone who is a good appearance. An example of this is when Elizabeth found out what sort of a person Mr Wickham is. Jane fails to see this and is still convinced he is nice.
The society in which the novel is set revolves solely on securing a high rung on the social ladder. For a man, the richer you were, the prettier your wife was expected to be and for a woman, you would do your utmost to get a rich and important husband. In Elizabeth’s case, she does not follow society, as she looks for character rather than social status. Her best friend, Charlotte Lucas on the other hand, is only to follow society. After Elizabeth refuses Mr Collins, Charlotte agrees to marry him. This pragmatic engagement ends any real confidence between her and Elizabeth; ‘ whose friendship she valued beyond that of any other person.’ Elizabeth is amazed that Charlotte has, ‘ sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage’ and realises that, ‘ to real confidence could ever subsist between them again.’
Elizabeth is also different in comparison to every other character in the novel because she has much less respect for people of higher stature than her. Her defying Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the main example of this. When she stays with Mr Collins and Charlotte, Elizabeth visits Lady Catherine at Rosings Park. She pays little attention to her, which was considered to be very rude because of her nobility and status. She also mocks Mr Darcy and he is more important and richer than her.
When Lady Catherine visits her after thinking Mr Darcy and her were engaged, she gets insulted about her family, her connections, her wealth and her looks. Instead of letting this happen as would normally happen, she stands up for herself, which Lady Catherine finds astonishing. Lady Catherine is relieved when she finds out the rumour is not true but is very annoyed at Elizabeth’s insolence and the way Elizabeth has cunningly mocked her.
Overall Jane Austen defies society and convention through the creation of Elizabeth Bennet. Only towards the end of the book does she appear to change and somewhat mature. The main example of this is when Mr Darcy proposes for the second time and she accepts. This is a sign of change because throughout the novel, Elizabeth mocks Mr Darcy constantly and she hated him. She hated him enough to refuse him the first time with no politeness whatsoever: “… if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot – I have never desired your good opinion, and you have bestowed it most unwillingly.” This shocks everyone when she announces their engagement because they were well known for their hatred for each other. It proves that Elizabeth was a well created character and very complex compared to every other character in the novel.