Where have all the good men gone

By the end of Pride and Prejudice, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennett is not, in fact, a good husband or father. Although he loves Elizabeth dearly, he fails to provide for the rest of his daughters and callously deals with his wife. The question then is raised: What is a good husband, or more broadly, a good man? And what can we gain by comparing Austin’s male figures with Abu-Lughod’s portraits of masculinity?

It seems important that the hero of Lydia’s story arc is, in the end, the uncle. Although not biologically the father figure of the Bennett family, he is called to act as one as a proxy. Mr. Gardner seemed to be the one fully aware of the implications of Lydia’s elopement, for after reading the letter he immediately understood that “not Lydia only, but all were concerned in it; and after the first exclamations of surprise and horror, Mr. Gardner readily promised every assistance in his power” (212). In spite of his own feelings about Lydia, he made great sacrifices for the sake of all of the sisters and the family at large. This contrasts with Mr. Bennett’s favoritism and laxity, which could be pointed to as the cause of the problem in the first place.

Perhaps we might frame the distinction between the two men as one of justice and injustice. This distinction calls to mind Gateefa’s storytelling and the portrait she paints of the good husband. Although the world of men is almost completely severed from that of women, familial interactions do occur between genders and are mediated by moral and social standards. Gateefa’s two stories about the good and bad wife also make a strong statement about what it means to be a good husband. In the first story, “the husband rewards the good and clever first wife and punishes the beautiful but idiotic second wife”, but in the latter the husband fails to recognize the value of the wise older wife (103). This reflects an injustice that Abu-Lughod suggests Gateefa might feel she is subject to in her own marriage (108).

As the one individual with power, the responsibility of the good man seems to be the execution of justice in the family. To a certain extent, this is reflected in the story arc of Pride and Prejudice; the title itself refers to an injustice to be overcome. Although the women seem to exert some power laterally among themselves, they are almost entirely without authority without the backing of their male relatives.

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One thought on “Where have all the good men gone

  1. I think this is still very true today. Although at first it seems that Mrs. Bennet is the authority figure in the marriage in contrast to the laid back Mr. Bennet, at the end it’s true that Mr. Bennet has all of the power and Mrs. Bennet really only had power amongst her daughters and even then Mr. Bennet has the final say. I think the role of a good man in almost all of literature is one of a disciplinarian and judicial figure because, like in court cases, the judge has the final say. In my family in particular, my father always played the role of the disciplinarian while my mother was the nurturer who comforted me after my father’s punishments were bestowed. When I crashed my car, my father laid down the law while my mother tried to fight him for a lesser sentence, and no matter what she or I had to say, he remained firm. I think in literature, though, and especially in Pride and Prejudice, the good man is a executer of justice because someone has to keep these rowdy and love-crazed women in check. In the Bennet family there are more women than there are men, so there has to be someone who is able to step up and control them. There has to be a sort of objective third party, if you will, who will be immune to all of the silly things women fuss over.

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