Monday, 20 June 2011

Irony and Humour

Of all the novels that Jane Austen has written, critics consider Pride and Prejudice to be the most comical. Humor can be found everywhere in the book; in it's character descriptions, imagery, but mostly in it's conversations between characters. Her novels were not only her way of entertaining people but it was also a way to express her opinions and views on what surrounded her and affected her. Austen uses a variety of comic techniques to express her own view on characters, both in her book and in her society that she lived in. We, the readers are often the object of her ridicule, and Austen makes the readers view themselves in a way which makes it easy for the reader to laugh at themselves. She introduces caricatures and character foils to further show how ridiculous a character may be. Pride and Prejudice has many character foils to exaggerate a characters faults or traits. Austen also uses irony quite often to inform the readers on her own personal opinions. The comic techniques caricatures, irony, and satire, not only helped to provide humor for Austen's readers, but they also helped Austen to give her own personal opinion on public matters.

When an action is exaggerated on stage by an actor, it becomes all the more noticeable to the audience.  An author can exaggerate a character in order to make fun of them. Austen exaggerates many of her characters and therefore makes caricatures of them in order to emphasize their ridiculousness. Mrs. Bennet is such a character. Her extremely unpleasant manner and reactions causes readers to delight in the situations which Mrs. Bennet places herself into. Mrs. Bennet's harsh tongue and simple mind causes the reader to laugh, because it is so exaggerated that the reader thinks that such a person cannot exist. Mr. Collins is another exaggerated character in the novel.  But would such characters seem humorous without somebody to react to them?  Not at all. Such exaggeration works only when the author places them besides another character who seems very real.  Mrs. Bennet is placed besides her husband to make her look all the more ridiculous and Mr. Collins, when placed especially by Elizabeth, seems to be unbelievable at times.  His proposal to Elizabeth would not be as humorous without Eliza's reaction and response to him.  Therefore, caricature, the exaggeration of character is an essential tool to Austen as means of portraying irony in the novel.

Irony is an excellent way for authors to combine wit and drama at the same time.  It works well in many parts of Pride and Prejudice.  Irony can be found in the gradual revelation of Darcy and Elizabeth's feelings for each other. It provides humor for the readers, yet at the same time, it revolves around the basic plot of the story.  It is a great balance between ironic dialogue and movement towards the scenes in the climax of the novel, when the relationship is developed. Another great example of her ironic wit can be found in the first chapter of the novel, when Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet discuss the new tenant of Netherfield Park, Mr. Bingley. Mr.Bennet's remark -"Is that his [Caroline Bingley's] design in settling here?"- is quite ironic and very satirical, although it is his extreme politeness and playful innocence that upsets Mrs. Bennet. That provides humour for the reader as a result of her dramatic character. Mrs. Bennet's character is not ironic in the least, but it is the blending of both characters that bring about the irony. Such foils points out to the readers the ridiculousness of human nature.

Pride in Prejudice is also very rich in satire. Austen disapproves of the way that public opinion always considers itself to be above all other opinions. She demonstrates the arrogance of public opinion in the matter with Darcy and the ball. Public opinion consideres Darcy to be a great man, simply on account of his large income. The ladies consider him much handsomer than Mr. Bingley because his income is much more handsome as well. However, once public opinion hears of Darcy's pride and supposed arrogance, it immediately states that it knew Mr. Darcy was a horrible man, and that it always assumed so. Austen demonstrates that public opinion is so quick to change minds that it often develops an opinion without informing itself of all the details or facts.  This becomes, to the readers, something to laugh at, although most readers do follow public opinion, one way or another.

The great display caricatures, character foils, irony, and satire of provides humor for Austen's readers.  Many of the characters that Austen writes about are often subjects of ridicule. The characters and situations that Austen enjoys satirizing were real for her in her time as well. However, the ultimate irony falls on us, Austen's readers, who laugh at Austen's characters.  We are the characters in the novel to Jane Austen. We recognize ourselves in the characters that Austen enjoys criticizing.  It's that recognization of ourselves that we laugh at and what we find amusing is the fact that Austen makes us view ourselves this way.  We laugh at our own faults.

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