P&P encore - character flaws


Written on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

So today, in continuing my examination of Pride and Prejudice, I'm shamelessly piggy-backing Santa and Janga's comments this morning about character flaws.

I talked last week about the major character changes/arcs that Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy go through. But Santa's post got me thinking about the exact opposite - those characters who did not change over the course of the novel.

With the possible exception of Jane, whose perfection showcased Elizabeth's impulsiveness, all of Austen's characters were flawed. Elder Mrs. Bennett was comical in her small-minded desperation to marry off her daughters; Mr. Bennett had given up caring about anyone except Elizabeth and Jane decades ago.

And then we have Lydia. Oh, Lydia. Has anyone else seen "Fool's Gold"? I think Lydia, if living today, would be a lot like Gemma on "Fool's Gold." I love when Kate Hudson points to all the idiot guys chasing after her and says to Gemma, "You see how dumb they are? They can't help it. You can. The end." Perhaps Lydia would have fared better if someone had said the same to her. Then again, perhaps not.

Opposite Lydia is Mr. Wickham, who starts out nice enough, and quickly takes a down-hill turn. Wickham's flaws seem numerous - deceit, gambling, lies, pretension, vein flattery.... But I think Janga was able to sum it up in one word: weak. Wickham had a weak character - he cared nothing for the other people in his life, yet tried desperately to look good in the eyes of others.

So the question on the ship today was about honor and redeeming our heroes. Could Wickham been redeemed? Could he have changed and become Lydia's hero? Austen purposely does not redeem either Wickham or Lydia, and they're doomed to a marriage much like Mr. and Mrs. Bennett's.

I think I'm going to have to go with Janga here that weakness is difficult, if not impossible, to redeem. Wickham had no honor - there was nothing beneath his flaws. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, had plenty of flaws himself, yet the cornerstone of his character was his honor and his willingness to do anything for his loved ones.

Even our most flawed heroes (our wonderful "bad boys") must have some moral code of their one, some sense of honor. It's there in the way they treat a stranger, or they're mother, or any other host of places, but you always have that glimmer that something better is deep inside and waiting to come out. Wickham didn't have that glimmer :)

For example, and to piggy back on the next book I'll analyze for this reading journal - Pamela Clare's Unlawful Contact - Marc Hunter is a definite bad boy. The man is serving life without parole for murder and drug trafficking for goodness' sake! So we have plenty of flaws (the whole killing people thing), yet we root for him through the whole book. I kept coming up with justifications for him, to gloss over the fact that he'd committed first-degree murder. Because it all came back to his honor - he did what he felt he had to do to protect someone he loved. For him, that was the end of it. If that meant he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, than that's what it mean.

There are heroes with strong characters (Mr. Darcy, Marc Hunter), and there are men with weak characters (Wickham). For me, those with weak characters, those who manipulate and use those around them and have not even a glimmer of honor beneath, will never become Mr. Darcy or Marc Hunter.

So, can anyone prove me wrong? Do you have heroes who start out as Wickham and turn into Mr. Darcy? A character with no glimmer of honor who is redeemed by the end? Or do you think it's impossible?