1993 Language Exam: Marriage Proposal

Question: Marriage Proposal

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The passages below are from two different novels. In each passage, a man is proposing marriage. Compare the rhetorical strategies--such as arguments, assumptions, attitudes, diction--used by the speakers in the two passages and comment on both the intended and the probable effects of the proposals on the women being addressed.
"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly--which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford--between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh's foot-stool, that she said, 'Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry.--Chuse properly, chuse a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.' Allow, me by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity I think must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite."
-Jane Austen (1813)
"You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men may mean when they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I mean is that I am under the influence of some tremendous attraction which I have resisted in vain and which overmasters me. You could draw me to fire, you could draw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to any death, you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you could draw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of my thoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your being the ruin of me. But if you would return a favourable answer to my offer of myself in marriage, you could draw me to any good--every good--with equal force. My circumstances are quite easy, and you would want for nothing. My reputation stands quite high, and would be a shield for yours. If you saw me at my work, able to do it well and respected in it, you might even come to take a sort of pride in me:--I would try hard that you should. Whatever considerations I may have thought of against this offer, I have conquered, and I make it with all my heart. Your brother favours me to the utmost, and it is likely that we might live and work together; anyhow, it is certain that he would have my best influence and support. I don't know that I could say more if I tried. I might only weaken what is ill enough said as it is. I only add that if it is any claim on you to be in earnest, I am in thorough earnest, dreadful earnest."

-Charles Dickens (1865)


Marriage Proposal - SCORE 4


The man in Austen's passage wants to marry out of practicality. He does not desire a companion, he needs to set an example and keep a friend from badgering him. He mentions that a wife would "greatly add to his happiness" in such a casual way that it appears to be an afterthought. The main motivation behind his reason for marrying is that his lady friend, Mrs. Jenkinson, is telling him that he needs to get married.

However, the man proposing marriage in Dickens' passage is the pinnacle of romanticism. He leaves the impression of being the classical Knight-in-shining-armor on the white horse. He is the type of man every woman dreams will someday come and sweep her off her feet. He wants to treat his lady like a goddess and make her proud. He offers her more than a mere proposition--he offers her his heart.

Both men meant well, they both wanted a positive response from their ladies. But, as a result of my reactions, to both passages, I think only Dickens' character will get a positive response. As a matter of fact, I think Austen's character will get not only a negative response but also a slap across the face because of the way he words his thoughts. The man in Dickens' passage proposes in such a romantic way that he will most-likely be given a resounding yes and be rewarded with his first kiss from his fiancée.




Marriage Proposal - SCORE 6

The two passages containing the proposals of marriage are spoken by men who have two very different motives for marriage. Through the speakers' arguments, assumptions, attitudes, and diction, this fact becomes apparent to the reader.

First, the men's reasons for marriage are entirely different, as are their attitudes toward the subject and the way in which they address the women to whom they are proposing. In the first passage by Jane Austen, the speaker notes three reasons for his desire to marry: he believes it will be a good example of matrimony in his parish, he is sure that he will be made greatly happy by it, and he was advised of it by his patroness, Catherine DeBourgh. These reasons convey to the reader that this clergyman is proposing marriage for more self-serving reasons than for reasons of genuine love for the woman. Also mentioned by his patroness is the selfishness that a wife would provide. Phrases such as "My reasons for marrying," "chuse . . . a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own," and "find a woman as soon as you can," also allude to the fact that the clergyman has more concrete, materialistic reasons to marrying than a true desire for the woman and her happiness. In comparison, the narrator in the second passage by Charles Dickens has very emotion-oriented reasons for proposal. The explanation of his proposal to the woman is that he loves her deeply, and could provide a good life for her. As opposed to the first speaker, this man has no concrete reasons for marriage that would directly be beneficial to him. The reader sees his great love for the woman expressed through words and phrases such as "I love you," "tremendous attraction," "fire," "death," and "dread earnest." Although the speaker does tell the woman that he is well-off, has a high reputation, and stands in high regard with her brother, the reader does not get the idea that he is proposing merely to improve upon any of these factors in his life style.

The effects, both intended and probable, on the women to whom the proposals are addressed are quite different as well. The first speaker's intention is clearly to persuade that woman by means of mentioning his patroness as a powerful woman who would no doubt bring respect to the addressed woman. The effect desired by the first speaker would probably be that she would be impressed by his friend's high social standing and her desire for him to marry. It is probable that the woman was flattered to be proposed to by a man of such high respect in the community. In the second passage, the speaker intends to persuade the woman he is speaking to by expressing his consuming love for her, and by reassuring her that they would be stable financially and have good relations with her brother. The probable effect of the proposal on the woman is that she would be "swept away" with desire for him and would not be able to resist his passionate proposal.

Clearly, the passages differ in many ways in the comparison of the two. The effects, desired and likely, are also different when compared with one another.




Marriage Proposal - SCORE 7


Two suitors in passages by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens propose marriage from very distinct points of view, one for convenience, the other for passion. The business-like offer will probably evoke a "no" as an answer, but the romantic request will most likely generate a positive reply.
Jane Austen's speaker, Mr. Collins, a very arrogant and egocentric individual, offers marriage in a haughty and condescending tone. His reasons for marrying, so he says, are for a rich clergyman like himself to set an example of matrimony in the parish, for a great addition to his happiness, and for compliance with the recommendation of his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr. Collins tells his cousin to whom he proposes that she would have to "play second fiddle" to Miss de Bourgh when he says to her that she "will find her [Lady Catherine's] manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity I think must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite." In effect, the minister accomplishes a surrogate marriage with his patroness, and he only marries his "second-best" cousin because he knows he could never wed Miss de Bourgh. Mr. Collins employs such words as "proper," "honor," "particular advice," "recommendation," "condescended," "rank," "respect," "arranging," and "circumstances," revealing that his passion is not directed toward his cousin but rather toward the retention of his social status through his patroness. All of these words have to do with propriety and social ordering, and in this context they disgust the reader, making him root for the girl. The speaker uses the word "I" throughout the passage only in a favorable fashion toward himself and promoting his thirst for a higher social position. The text ends with the word "excite," which is ironic because the proposal is anything but exciting; in fact, it may only be exciting for the sycophant Mr. Collins who attaches himself to Miss de Bourgh because she bestows him with money, power, and position. Mr. Collins probably assumes and expects his cousin to accept his proposal, but she more than likely will not accept and marry such an abject, self-serving man.
Charles Dickens' character, on the other hand, is much more gushing and ebullient with true love for the woman whom he adores. He professes he is "under the influence of some tremendous attraction which [he has] resisted in vain and which overmasters [him]." This speaker is looking for a marriage of partnership and love, not just a perfunctory and selfish one like Mr. Collins. He claims surrender to his beloved, declaring that she can draw him "to fire, . . . to water, . . . to the gallows, . . . to any death, . . . to anything [he has] most avoided, . . . to any exposure and disgrace." His pronoun of emphasis is "you," showing his modesty, and any "I" only furthers his emotional state of surrender to his love. The speaker's final word is "earnest," which is not surprising because, compared to the Austen passage, Dickens' protagonist is many times more sincere. He utilizes such phrases as "confusion," "fit for nothing," and "being the ruin of me," where he belittles himself in order to express humility in the face of his love for the woman. The passion he feels for her is greater than his own humble view of himself. This atmosphere makes the reader envious, longing for his own lover to be so selfless. The speaker does not assume or expect his love to say "yes" (as much as he might want her to), but she probably will be won over and accept his proposal.
Whereas marriage is truly a contract for two people to unite their lives, individuals may enter this institution for convenience, lust, or intellectual love. Marriage is usually associated with love, as with the Dickens piece, but Mr. Collins exhibits no actual love for his cousin. Whether in the loveless business-deal proposal in Jane Austen's work or the passionate offer in Charles Dickens' passage, the responder to the proposal may affirm the adage that love is truly blind.



Marriage Proposal - SCORE 8

Through attitude, argument and diction, the speaker of each passage uses a widely different method of proposing marriage to his intended. While the speaker of Austen's passage has a self-interested aloof tone, the speaker of Dickens's passage has a tone filled with passion. When presented with these two proposals, the woman being addressed would probably look upon Austen's speaker with disdain and rejection, but would look upon Dickens's suitor with warmth and acceptance.

In Austen's passage the speaker presents his proposal of marriage as if it were a business agreement. Instead of speaking about feelings and love, he talks only of practicalities. He even manages to sound exactly like a business contract when he lists each and every reason why he wants to enter into matrimony with his intended. Diction phrases such as "example of matrimony" and "add very greatly to my happiness," are so passionless and disinterested that it seems the speaker does not truly want to marry the woman he is conversing with. His indifference is only emphasized by his third reason for marriage. He does not act on his own will, but acts on the advice of a "very noble lady," who seems to mean more to him than the women being propositioned to. Snobbish language and glorification of his "patroness" serve only to probably bore the intended. She did not just give him advice, but "condescended to give (him) her opinion." In addition to the coldness of his agreement, the speaker also insults his intended by his presumptuous attitude. He assumes that the lady is dying to marry him and so when he speaks, it is only to assure "his happiness." Instead of offering himself to her, it is obvious that he is giving her a chance to be married to a worthy person as himself. This is make all to clear when he states that she must have "wit and vivacity" and must show "silence and respect" to his patroness.

While Austen's speaker can only but put off a woman, Dickens' suitor can win her. While Austen's speaker issues a business arrangement, Dickens' suitor gives an impassioned plea to his lady-love. IN his argument on why his beloved should marry him, he offers himself to her. His attitude is that of offering and pleading. Phrases such as "you could draw me to anything," "I would try hard," show his love and willingness to do anything for his beloved. Powerful diction such as "tremendous attraction," "overmasters me," and "draw me to any death," reveal the strong passion-filled emotions he feels toward his woman. Instead of just focusing on what she can offer him, he focuses on what he can offer her in his arguments. While he does mention practicalities, his speech is centered on his strong feelings and love for his love.
When confronted with these two proposals a woman could not be helped by being repulsed by Austen's speaker's words, and felling moved by Dickens' suitor's pleas. For marriage is not an institution based on practicalities and self-interest, it is a partnership full of love and devotion.