by Connie Clarkson
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of prejudice is: the preconceived judgment or opinion and/or an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge. The notion of prejudice is an ever-changing ideology. The idea that someone is already pre-judged with little or no facts. There are many forms of prejudice in older works of literature, for example, Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, Charles Dickinson, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations, George Eliot’s, Daniel Deronda, and of course, Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice.
There are so many themes that overlap in older classic books, some of these stories are told in old English, and it can be hard to follow along. Though all of these stories have different messages and journeys, they all have one thing in common, the form and stigma of prejudice. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson, becomes the scapegoat for a crime he didn’t commit, simply because he’s African American. The prejudice of people writing him off because he was “likely to be guilty” points out the true flaws of the justice system. Atticus Finch comes to his rescue and saves Robinson from going to jail and in a way from the judgment of the town, but nothing is ever the same.
In Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Dickinson writes about London and the poverty that overwhelmed the city, he attempted, through his depiction of impoverished characters in his fiction, to give his readers insight and a look into the poverty and injustices of his middle-class/upper class constitutes. As well in his second best-known story, Great Expectations, Dickens writes about the depth of loneliness, and the theme of class following the main character Pip, a young boy who shows kindness to a stranger and then is later rewarded and brought up to be an English gentleman. Though he encounters the prejudice of being written off by his one love and family members shows a dark side to love and the treatment of people who were thought to be ‘nothings.’
In George Eliot’s, Daniel Deronda, Elitot writes about the loss and identity of a young man named Daniel Deronda, he grows up with little to no knowledge of his real parents and struggles through his whole life to accept himself and his upbringing. He then meets two young women who challenge his ideals but leaves an ever-changing mark on them about the kindness and dignity to treat people as human beings. As he leaves these impressions, he encounters the Jewish religion and the Jewish community in London and sees the prejudice of how they are treated by society. In the end, Daniel comes to meet his mother and finds comfort in knowing her, but also the truth about why she left her son because of the prejudice that society and her career demanded.
Last but not least, is Jane Austen’s most famous works of literature, Pride and Prejudice. Austen writes about the mentality and now coined, “double standard” of women in English society. The social stigma of marrying older and the thought that a woman must marry to become anything more than they already are. Further, the suffocating social classification of being the poor or upper class and the prejudgement that the famous Mr. Darcy concludes after first meeting Elizabeth Bennet and her family. The fact that he doesn’t consider her enough because of her social status is repulsive to think about now in our day in age. I tell ya, if that man said something like that to me, I for sure would give him a piece of my mind, and good thing Elizabeth did. But then, through all the drama and confessions, the two see that they both misjudged each other, and came to a truce.
Now, yes all of these works of literature have gained popularity on their own merits, but these stories tell of a changing society and the challenge meant of getting people to open their eyes and see the injustices. The fact that these writers saw the issues and stigma’s and wrote to expose and press upon the reader of these ideals shows the progress not just in social issues, but all together as a society. I find that people will always be judged and that it’s something that as together as a society and as people we will always be constantly trying to change. People say that they try not to judge people, I know that I’ve said it, but it’s hard. I think it’s something not to be ashamed of, but when you’re judging someone on their social status, or how much money they make, or how their living situation is, or who they’re dating, it doesn’t do anybody a service.
I often wonder when reading or watching Austen adaptations, TV shows, or books, that she must’ve been really lonely. She was a modern thinker of her time, and she was far past her time with her ideals, but in a way, I think she was meant to be the way she was. she revolutionized the way today women are treated and should be treated in society and in general as a person. She loosely built the foundation of feminism. If you ask me she took one for the team… If I could say one thing to Jane, I think I would say thank you for saying your mind, thank you for not being afraid to say what you wanted and what you meant. Thank you for taking that first step for women everywhere. Thank you for writing the wrongs of prejudice.