It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single film in possession of a good story must be in want of a remake. Thus, we see the reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic story of manners Pride and Prejudice as a zombie-apocalypse epic called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I read the 2009 book this new film is based on a few years ago and I found it to be funny and creative in its twists on the familiar moments and plot points from the original novel.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. The fact that that film opens this week is just a pretense for a much more interesting discussion. This Movie Matchup will show you that Fiddler on the Roof borrows most of its story from Pride and Prejudice. In this case, I’m not concerned about the exact film version of Pride and Prejudice to compare to Fiddler on the Roof because I plan to just talk about the book. The images I’ll use in this article come from the 1995 BBC miniseries because that one is the most faithful and literal interpretation of the book.
There is no enjoyment like reading, so let’s bring this Movie Matchup to life as we explore the similarities between Fiddler on the Roof and Pride and Prejudice.
Right off the bat, there’s the obvious similarity that both of these stories involve a father and a mother with five daughters living at home. By the end of each story, three of the five daughters are married and moved out.
In Fiddler on the Roof, the three oldest daughters are married off in order, starting with the eldest. In Pride and Prejudice, the youngest daughter is married first, followed by the eldest and then the second-oldest. In both stories, the eldest stays closest to the family while the younger two wind up separated by a long distance from their father and mother.
Rejecting a Marriage Proposal
Lazar Wolf and Mr. Collins play similar foils to a daughter’s chances at happiness. A wealthy butcher named Lazar Wolf wants to marry Tevye’s eldest daughter Tzeitel. However, she doesn’t want to marry him and she begs her father not to force her to marry Lazar because she’ll be unhappy all her days if she does. Her heartfelt pleas melt Tevye’s heart and he agrees not to force her to marry Lazar.
Mr. Collins is a fairly well-off clergyman who is the cousin of the Bennet girls. He singles out Elizabeth Bennet for his affections and soon makes a proposal of marriage to her. She utterly refuses to marry him. She is convinced he’s the last man in the world who could make her happy, and vice-versa. When Elizabeth’s father hears about her decision, he refuses to force her to marry Mr. Collins.
Daughter No. 1: Soulmates
The eldest daughters in both families have a similar love story. Tzeitel is in love with her childhood friend Motel. Motel is a poor tailor who lacks the self-confidence necessary to ask for Tzeitel’s hand in marriage. But hearing about Tzeitel’s close call with Lazar inspires Motel to be brave and ask Tevye to allow him to marry Tzeitel. After a lot of soul-searching, Tevye agrees. The two prove to be perfect for each other in every way. They stay in the Jewish town of Anatevka and plan to always remain close to Tevye, even if they’re separated by an ocean for a time.
Jane Bennet is in love with Mr. Bingley. Bingley is a rich young man who moves into a house near the Bennets’ home at Longbourn. He, too, lacks self-confidence and is persuaded to stay away from Jane by his friend Mr. Darcy. However, he eventually realizes he can’t deny his love for Jane and he proposes to her. The two get married and stay close to the Bennets until they realize the proximity is too much for them and move a little farther away.
Daughter No. 2: Opposites Attract
The second daughters also have a similar love story. Hodel meets a mysterious revolutionary named Perchik who comes to town and immediately establishes himself as an outsider with radical political and social ideas. The townsfolk don’t like him much, especially Hodel. They clash all the time, and he finds himself attracted to her because of her witty tongue. They wind up dancing together and falling in love in spite of their differences. When he gets arrested and sent to Siberia, she follows him and marries him.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy find each other detestable at their first meeting. Darcy comes across as prideful and conceited to the local townspeople and he draws the special ire of Elizabeth. They bicker constantly, but he finds her impudence charming and he quickly falls in love with her. They share a dance together and spend a lot of time getting to know each other before she finally gets over her prejudice and falls in love with him. She accepts his marriage proposal and the two go to live in his huge estate.
Daughter No. 3: Forbidden Love
The third daughters don’t have quite so happy an ending. Chava, who is a Jew, meets a kind Russian Orthodox Christian named Fyedka. She is forbidden from marrying outside her faith, but she is charmed by his love of books and pleasant demeanor. She elopes with him and is married off-screen in a Christian church. Her father is horrified by this and he is forced to disown her.
The youngest Bennet daughter, Lydia, foolishly falls in love with a scoundrel named Mr. Wickham. She runs away with Mr. Wickham in what she assumes to be an elopement. However, the two don’t get married at first and it appears that he has no intentions of marrying her. This puts a black mark on the rest of the Bennet girls’ social standing, and Mr. Bennet attempts to find them in order to force them to marry.
She’ll Never Be Welcome in My House!
The fathers have a change of heart about the last daughter’s banishment. After Tevye disowns Chava and tells her she’ll never be welcome in their lives again, he sees her one last time. She says she and her husband are leaving for Poland. And Tevye proclaims, “God be with you,” as they go to let her know he will always love her.
Mr. Darcy tracks down Mr. Wickham and Lydia and forces them to get married to save the Bennets’ reputation. After the wedding takes place, the new couple wants to come home for a brief reception, but Mr. Bennet says they will never be welcome at Longbourn. However, he soon changes his mind and allows the two to stay for a short time before they go to live far, far away.
The Father and Mother’s Relationship
The father and mother have opposite relationship trajectories in these two stories. Tevye and Golde didn’t know each other before they got married. Theirs was an arranged marriage. But over the years of fighting and clashing over everything, they realize that they have grown to love each other.
On the other hand, Mr. Bennet admits that he married Mrs. Bennet in his youth because of her pretty looks. But over time they grew apart because he realized she is an imbecile. He now delights in teasing her, but there’s not much affection in his teasings. He mostly loves her for giving him two wonderful daughters out of five, nothing more.
Losing Their Home
The threat of losing their home looms over both families. Anatevka is constantly under fear of persecution from the Czarist government in early 20th century Russia. In the end the local Russian authorities are ordered to eject all Jews from the town. Tevye and his family flee to America while his married daughters remain in various parts of Russia and Eastern Europe.
Because Mr. and Mrs. Bennet never had a son to inherit their wealth, their home and other belongings are entailed away to Mr. Bennet’s closest male relative, Mr. Collins. They live in fear of the day their father will die and leave them all penniless and homeless. Thankfully, that day doesn’t come before the two oldest daughters marry far above their station and ensure none of their family will ever be destitute.
Two Traditional Tales
Boy, that’s a lot in common. I think the reason these two stories aren’t usually seen as having much to do with each other is because they are told from different perspectives. Fiddler on the Roof is told from the father’s perspective while Pride and Prejudice is from the perspective of the second-oldest daughter. Their similarities don’t take away from either story. They’re both just as amazing as ever, if not more so, now that we have this new perspective on them.
I used to think of Fiddler on the Roof as a uniquely Jewish film, but I now look at it as a universally appealing story that’s in the tradition of Pride and Prejudice.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images are the copyright of their respective owners.
Great review of a fantastic story. The movie is wonderful of course, but I loved seeing this on stage a few years back. One of my good friends was cast as Hodel. So much fun!
As someone who grew up watching Fiddler on the Roof, I can honestly say that its story and thematic similarities to Pride and Prejudice had never occurred to me. There are definitely variations but the two line up incredibly well. I am curious though, which you consider to be better in your mind? Also, which version of Pride and Prejudice are you most likely to think of first for an article like this?
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Oh man, that is a tough one. I grew up loving Fiddler on the Roof. It’s the first musical I remember seeing. My wife introduced me to Pride and Prejudice seven years ago, and I fell in love with the book and the various film versions.
If I had to choose… I’d have to go with Fiddler on the Roof. At my first job, I actually wrote my own version of “If I Were a Rich Man” called “If I Had a Small Raise” and I sang it to my boss. He gave me the raise, no questions asked. That movie will always be among my favorites.
The definitive version of Pride and Prejudice that I always think of is the 1995 BBC miniseries. It’s just perfect in every detail.
I’m so glad I could give you a new perspective on these classic stories. That’s what I love doing. Thank you for your wonderful comment. 🙂
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