Define symbol, setting, motif, paradox, mood, and other literary terms and find examples from Pride and Prejudice.

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As we are limited in space, below are a few ideas to help get you started, along with a literary terms dictionary to help you with other terms you are still uncertain of.

Setting is one of the easier literary terms to understand. The setting of a piece of literature refers to the time period, location, and circumstances in which the action of the story takes place. The main setting is usually identified within the first chapter of a book or at least within the first few chapters. For example, in the first chapter, we learn that Mr. Bingley has decided to rent Netherfield, making the house a very important part of the setting. Later, in Chapter 3, we learn that Mr. Bingley has already returned to London, making the Bennets wonder what could have possibly made Mr. Bingley return to town "so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire." From this phrase alone, we learn that the Bennets live in the English county of Hertfordshire. After the Meryton ball in this same chapter, we also learn that the Bennets live in the village of Longbourn, which is also the name of their manor house, as we learn in the sentence, "They returned therefore in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principle inhabitants." Hence, we learn from Chapter 3, that the book is set in the house of Longbourn, in the village of Longbourn, near the manor house called Netherfield, both of which are in the county of Hertfordshire. What's more, Jane Austen always wrote about and published in her own time period, so we know the book is also set in the late 1700s. While Longbourn is the main setting, the setting of the book also branches out from there to include any of the locations the characters visit, such as Netherfield, Meryton, Hunsford, and Rosings.

A symbol is any object, place, word, or even character that actually has meaning beyond its literal meaning. One obvious example is that, on the surface, a rose is a rose, but it can also represent love and passion. Jane Austen doesn't use a great deal of symbolism, but she certainly does like to use characters' names symbolically. The antagonist, Wickham, is one example of Austen using a character's name symbolically. The name Wickham comes from the word wicked, which in turn comes from the Middle English root word wikked, meaning "bad"; also, the suffix ham, which appears in many names of English towns, like Nottingham, is Celtic for the word home or farm (Random House Dictionary; "HAM Surname Origins"). Therefore, Wickham's name fully translates to "a home that is bad." In other words, Austen is clearly using his name symbolically to characterize him as one who, despite physical appearances and charm, actually cannot be trusted.

A motif is anything that occurs frequently within one literary work. A motif can be a literary device, an incident, an image, a symbol, or even a word. Austen also does not use many recurring motifs; however, it can be said that one recurring motif is the word equal. The word equal especially helps portray one of Austen's themes in Pride and Prejudice, which is the perceived prejudicial inequality of the classes. In other words, Austen uses Pride and Prejudice to protest against how the higher class viewed the middle class as being inferior, using the word equal. The word equal comes up repeatedly. The first example can be seen in Chapter 3 when Mrs. Bennet hopes that Jane will soon be married to Mr. Bingley and settled in Netherfield and that she would also see "all the [other daughters] equally well married." Here, marrying a wealthy, landowning gentleman would equate to providing the Bennet daughters with a social status equal to their own. Mr. Bennet is a landowning gentleman, but the girls will wind up poor unless they marry well because they have no brother to directly inherit Longbourn, so marrying a wealthy man would be the only way to maintaining their equal social status. Later, in Chapter 14 of Volume 3, the word equal is also used to portray the class prejudices Austen is exposing when Lady Catherine de Bourgh argues that, despite the fact that Mr. Darcy is only a landowning gentleman as opposed to a nobleman, Elizabeth is not equal to him because Mr. Darcy does have noble relatives, while Elizabeth does not--a notion that both Elizabeth and Austen strongly, morally oppose.

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