Essays and Criticism
Major Themes in Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is full of character-driven themes that revolve around the literary concept of “comedy of manners.” A comedy of manners is a literary work that deals with young lovers attempting to unite in marriage, and usually includes several incidences of witty commentary from the main characters, which can take form in terms of anything from clever flirting to open warfare, as in the case of Darcy and Elizabeth. Pride and Prejudice is mainly concerned with the pairing of several couples and the issues surrounding each of those couples. The pursuit of marriage in this novel brings the other major themes to light.
The novel’s title itself indicates one of the major themes of the novel. All of the characters in this novel (with the exception of Jane and Bingley) suffer from the sins of both pride and prejudice. This is evident in Darcy’s introduction, when the entire neighborhood is set against Darcy (and he against them):
Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien—and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand a year . . . and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance (6).
Thus Hertfordshire society looks down upon Darcy for the remainder of the novel. This introduction to Darcy also demonstrates an important point about the relationship between pride and prejudice—one leads to the other. The affront that the neighborhood has suffered by Darcy’s refusal to interact with them leads to their prejudice. Darcy, possessing pride as well, is no better, as he develops a bias against the neighborhood and the Bennett family in particular. This intolerance leads to Darcy’s interference in and prevention of Jane and Bingley’s romance. Elizabeth also suffers from both pride and prejudice, as her mortification over Darcy’s description of Elizabeth as “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt” him (7), and his proud behavior at the first party at Netherfield, as she rejects Darcy’s first proposal:
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Good Matches in Pride and Prejudice
The primary concern of Pride and Prejudice is to determine how a young girl of some intelligence and beauty but not much money can enter into a good marriage in Regency England—a time and place in which a good marriage was determined almost entirely by the opportunity for money, status, and “connections” (networking) between families and businesses. Austen criticizes this concept of marriage as financial and social advancement, and instead contends that a good marriage consists of two people who are of similar mind and talents.
In order to understand what is at stake for all of the girls in the novel, it must first be understood that there were very few options available to the daughters of a gentleman such as Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters. Professions for “respectable” women at the time were scarce—the only viable career choice would be as a governess for young children. Since those jobs were few and far between, the most realistic (and sometimes only) option for young women of Austen’s time was marriage. This, of course, made the availability of brides to men plentiful, increasing the anxiety of parents of young girls who did not have enough money, status, or beauty to attract rich young men. Austen addresses the desperation felt by parents who needed to marry off their daughters at the very beginning of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (1). This spot of humor highlights the major dilemma of not only the Bennett sisters but thousands of girls in Austen’s time—the desperation of parents to marry their daughters off to the first unmarried man with money that comes along.
Austen presents several attitudes toward the problem of attaining a marriage with underwhelming money, status, and/or looks. The first character to marry in the novel is Charlotte Lucas, who demonstrates her opinion on the concept of a good match in her discussion with Elizabeth regarding Jane and Bingley:
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation, and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to...
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Humor in Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is an extremely funny novel, but most students miss the humor because of difficulty with the language. Close examination of Austen’s ironic and scathing treatment of specific characters and scenes in the novel not only helps to clarify the novel’s major themes, but also makes Pride and Prejudice an enjoyable experience.
The novel is sarcastic from its opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (1). This is obviously not true—as any major movie star or rock singer can attest. Austen is ironically stating that when a young, rich, single man is in the neighborhood, people are always trying to set him up with a girl, whether or not he wants to be. This is because, as Austen notes, once he moves into a neighborhood, he becomes the "rightful property” of the girls of the area. This idea of targeting available young men for marriage is the central topic of the novel, as every family in Hertfordshire is attempting to hitch up Mr. Bingley to their daughters. This line also shows the desperation of the families in attempting to attain wealth and connections at all costs.
The first declared victim of this targeting mentality, Mrs. Bennet, is one of the funniest (and the stupidest) characters in Pride and Prejudice. In Chapter 1, Mrs. Bennet is completely oblivious to Mr. Bennet’s sarcasm because she is incapable of understanding anything remotely intelligent, and she is completely fixated on the idea of Mr. Bingley, the latest rich and available young man to move into the neighborhood. Mr. Bennett teases Mrs. Bennet by telling her that there is no need for him to introduce himself to Bingley, which there really is, as the societal rules of the time dictated that the father of a family must first introduce themselves to a new neighbor (especially a male) before the rest of the family was permitted to visit. The teasing comes to a head when Mrs. Bennet exclaims that Mr. Bennet has no regard for her delicate nerves, to which he replies: “You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least” (2). In reality, Mr. Bennet has no respect for his wife’s feelings at all because she is so ridiculous. Austen clarifies this shortly hereafter, when she describes the Bennets as a...
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Pride and Prejudice: Historical Background and Treatment of Men and Women
Pride and Prejudice published in 1813, is Jane Austen's second, and probably best known novel, though it was originally published anonymously. Austen began Pride and Prejudice in 1796 under the title First Impressions. Her family found the novel entertaining and continued to reread it for at least two years. By 1799, she'd begun working on Eleanor and Marianne, which was later published as Sense and Sensibility in 1811. She again began revision work on First Impressions, though she was forced to retitle it as the name had already been used by another novelist. Pride and Prejudice finds its popular appeal in its control of language, wit, clever dialogue, and charming representations of human foible portrayed in characters such as Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Mrs. Bennet. It is a far more mature and better written novel than Sense and Sensibility.
Known as a novel of manners, it, like Emma (1816), another popular Austen novel often used in the classroom, portrays the life of gentility in a small, rural society. Austen dramatizes the delicate and precarious nature of a society based on an ecology of manners. In such a society, the well-being of everyone hinges on people maintaining their proper places and behaving according to a strict code of manners. For the Bennet girls, their chances of marriage fall...
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The New Romance in Pride and Prejudice
Students, like many critics, question the point of the last volume (the final 19 chapters) of Pride and Prejudice because they already know who will "get" whom. Many feminist scholars portray Austen's happy unions as either sexist, sellouts, or parodies. But critics' declared dissatisfaction with marriage as a narrative resolution is never reconciled with unexamined prejudices against single women. A number of critics themselves reiterate the tired news that Austen was a "spinster," a term that Austen's books never once invoke and that hardly defends singleness as a liberating option. The twin assumptions that neither single nor married women can be powerful, useful, or happy leads to a deadlier myth, the curiously perverse axiom that suicide is woman's only "life-affirming" choice. In fact, the art—particularly Kate Chopin's The Awakening—and the authors—Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath—in vogue during the last few decades have often been seen as glorifying death as the only way out for women in an inexorably unjust culture. By implication, simply surviving, let alone coping, becomes synonymous with compromising. The last third of Pride and Prejudice, however, imagines an alternative: far from smothering under a shroud of "the marriage plot," Elizabeth Bennet works out a new institution of love based on a new conception of self.
After the crisis of Elizabeth's initial embarrassment at Mr....
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As for the historical content of the [Austen] novels, students may not see it because they think of social history as "history with the politics left out," as G. M. Trevelyan once described it, rather than what it is: the essential foundation that gives shape to everything else. For the cultural historian Raymond Williams, for example, Austen's novels provide an accurate record of that moment in English history in which high bourgeois society most evidently interlocked with an agrarian capitalism. "An openly acquisitive society," writes Williams [in The Country and the City, 1975], "which is concerned also with the transmission of wealth, is trying to judge itself at once by an inherited code and by the morality of improvement." What is at stake here is not personal relations but personal conduct "a testing and discovery of the standards which govern human behaviour in certain real situations." Those situations arise from the unsettled world Austen portrays, with its continual changes of fortune and social mobility that were affecting the landed families of her time. Thus, although Darcy is a landowner established for "many generations," his friend Bingley has no estate and has inherited £100,000 from his father, who made money in trade; and although Mr. Bennet has an estate, he has married the daughter of an attorney who has a brother in trade, and his estate will not pass to his own children, and so on.
Readers may glimpse the "openly...
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