The pursuit of a loving and prosperous marriage, and the ability of such unions to benefit all of society—despite contrary impulses and forces—is the central theme of all of Jane Austen's novels. Pride and Prejudice remains one of her most popular, as indicated by the number of attempted literary sequels (six) and film versions, perhaps because the two main characters are so evenly matched: flawed but strong individuals, witty, and basically good-hearted. However, within this major framework, there are other themes and sub-themes that show a great variety in the workings of human nature. A few noteworthy sub-themes include the role of the family and the relations between family members, the variety of characters even within the same family, and the importance of nurture and education. The tension between surface social decorum and what goes on in the emotions of the characters is also important. It is important to note the influence of social expectations on what characters express and what they hold back.
Although Jane Austen is sometimes criticized for a lack of psychological depth and range—for slighting the passions—she actually communicates the deeply passionate natures of her characters by having them act under the restraints of social decorum. The forces of passion and discord are always there, although they may not always be readily apparent. Within the Bennet family, for instance, we soon become aware that the marriage is not a...
(The entire section is 982 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Pride and Prejudice Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The two major themes of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are summed up in the title. The first aspect can be traced in the actions and statements of all of the work's major and many of its minor characters. Pride is the character flaw that causes Elizabeth Bennet to dislike Fitzwilliam Darcy upon their first meeting. She perceives in him a cold aloofness that she attributes to his own inflated opinion of himself. Yet Elizabeth herself also suffers from the same flaw; her pride in her own ability to analyze character is such that she refuses to reevaluate Darcy in the face of evidence in his favor.
In some characters, Austen depicts pride overtly. Lady Charlotte de Bourgh is motivated by pride in her family's status to try to break up a potential match between Elizabeth and Darcy. Mrs. Louisa Hurst and Caroline Bingley try to achieve the same effect with the relationship between their brother Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet. In each case, however, Austen depicts the pride of these minor characters as ridiculous: "Austen treats pride," writes Robert B. Heilman in "E pluribus unum: Parts and Whole in Pride and Prejudice" "as if it were wholly unproblematic, a failing no less clear-cut than prejudice."
In the case of Elizabeth and Darcy, however, Austen treats pride less directly. On his first appearance in the novel, Darcy appears "above his company and above being pleased," reports Heilman,...
(The entire section is 2883 words.)