Every text we’ve encountered has dealt, implicitly or explicitly, with the concept of the ideal. Whether it is the ideal family, the ideal man, the ideal wife (and the list goes on), all the characters are compared to it, and inevitably, they almost always fall flat. In the cases where they don’t, they’re held up as an example for others, perpetuating the concept of the “ideal.”
For example, in Moynihan, the discussion of the “absent father” and the lack of masculinity implies a deviance from some sort of ideal. Stack describes kinship in comparison to some implicit ideal. This ideal is present in Tuesday’s readings in a variety of ways. Darcy initially appears as an ideal character, given his appearance and his wealth, but that idea is quickly overturned by his personality. Jane is ideal in her gentle demeanor and beauty, but she lacks Elizabeth’s wit. Characters are compared to the ideal, but they always fall short.
The concept of ideal also plays a role in the relationships found in the book. Chapter XIX of Volume II begins:
Had Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing picture of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. (180)
Within that line, there seems to be an implication that there is something a family should be, and whatever it is, her family is not. She accepts her father’s shortcomings (or, rather, “endeavour[s] to forget what she could not overlook”), but she is aware of “the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage” (181). This deviance from the ideal carries consequences beyond the present. The ideal is also present in the reasons for marriage: love is not the right reason, neither is an economic motive. The question of what the ideal reason for marriage is is never actually answered, but the romanticism of the book lies in the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. It is held up as an ideal, which is, perhaps, part of the reason for its enduring popularity.
I want to mention “Polygyny” briefly because in some senses, Gateefa is held up as the ideal. However, Azza is the one who is favored the most (in the beginning at least). In addition, despite this “ideal” quality, Gateefa seems unhappy in her role. (This is debatable.)
Finally, returning to last Tuesday’s readings, Ruilang/Ruiniang’s role as a mother to Chengxian can be considered exemplary, but there is the added tension of the role of biological sex in motherhood. Can a man be a mother? The critique at the end holds the relationship between Ruilang and Jifang as ideal, but also one-of-a-kind. This raises even more questions about the nature of the “ideal.” Is it something that is attainable? Is it supposed to be attainable? Does it actually exist?