Ah, the Perils of Social Ascension! Essay

Submitted By paul1712
Words: 978
Pages: 4

Contemporary culture rewards status largely based upon determination and hard work. No matter the goal, if an individual is driven enough to master their particular art they will be rewarded with proper social recognition. It may be the path of brilliance such as Steve Jobs, responsible for the invention of many major technological advances or the path of comedy such as Steve Martin, responsible for many a laugh around the world; if dedication is pursued, inevitable social success will follow. In the world of Jane Austen, this relationship is substantially askew. One’s status is based upon matters of inheritance, wealth, gender, title and little else. Though the efforts of lower class citizens may be socially appreciated and respected, they never amount to much because they will never trump an upper class title or long-standing prestigious family. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, she focuses on newly implemented means of social mobility, the reactions to such means, as well as interrelationships between the titled class and commoners in the early 19th century England. It is through her analysis of each that she portrays the deterioration of traditional class systems and the effect they have on an individual’s personhood.
Austen builds upon a few central characters in her novel; Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth and Sir Walter Elliot to name a few; distinctly attending to how they interact within society and obey by the rules and structures that govern their lives. An individual and the society in which they live share an exceedingly intimate relationship. The two are mutually dependent on one another and it is through this dependence that the foundation for people’s actions, characters, and identities lie. The society and the relationships within it provide norms that indicate people's obligations on the basis of which their achievements are evaluated and socially recognized. In older societal traditions, such achievements are limited to one’s birthrights and inheritance alone. Austen addresses newly implemented means of building upon one’s status through achievements that, astonishingly, actually involve hard work. It is by means of hard work that status is rewarded and can therefore path the way for wealth and social recognition. A new definition of status is created, one that values a person’s contributions, charities, propriety and fulfillment of obligations to their society. This opens up room for an individual to rise up or fall, creating social mobility and freedom.
A new mean of social achievement specifically concentrated upon in Austen’s novel is an individual’s success within the Navy. Anne’s family deems it unsuitable that Captain Wentworth, seen as somewhat of a nobody previous to his civil duty, should propose to her. Anne was “persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing: indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success, and not deserving it” (37). Wentworth, of inferior birth and little wealth, was positively benefitted by the opportunity of becoming a naval officer. Post-war, now wealthy from wartime victories, would be an attractive option to many eager eligible ladies. After eight long years he has gained the respect of English upper class society and is considered a worthy gentleman.
Not all of Austen’s characters share such positive outlooks on the changing society; Sir Walter Elliot reaps the negative effects of such an existing opportunity. Sir Walter is a silly, vain man who prides himself upon his family connections and above all, his baronetcy. Austen’s opening statement says it all: “Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage.” Because his entirety relies so heavily upon his status in society, he is utterly opposed to anything that may de-emphasis it. He sees the Navy as a means “of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honors which their fathers and grandfathers never…