Discuss the comic effects and serious themes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Jane Austen's era, finding a marriage partner was paramount in securing a future in upper class circles. Pride and Prejudice explores the lengths that people will go to and the compromises that are necessary in order to conform to the expectation of securing a satisfactory marriage and also the consequences of failing to conform. Jane Austen is able to combine serious themes including the obvious prejudice in class circles and between the genders; pride which can destroy relationships and friendships in general and marriage with all its conflicting standpoints and its ultimate use as a means to an end, being financial security. She approaches them with a tongue-in-cheek outlook and an insightful irony, although her critics do claim that her novel lacks depth due to the manner of narration. 

However, at the very beginning, the reader is prepared for the "universally acknowledged" truth that life revolves around a man's "fortune" and his abilities to secure a wife. This brings a light-hearted tone to a very serious issue. It seems that even seemingly well-matched couples, such as Jane and Bingley, who have a general similarity of feeling and taste" will face difficulties in their future due to being so good-natured to the point that " every servant will cheat you...(and) you will always exceed your income." 

Ill-matched couples should beware. Elizabeth's own parents are reflections of what can happen when a marriage is made for the wrong reasons. Mrs Bennett is fickle and silly and clearly lacking in intelligence. Mr Bennett has little time for his wife's foolishness and realizes, far too late, the implications of his withdrawal from family life and how he has affected his daughters' character development. Lydia, the Bennett's youngest daughter who likes nothing more than dancing and engaging in frivolous activities is destined to be like her mother and her marriage is collapsing around her. These are all serious issues but handled in a manner that highlights Austen's ability to entertain her readers and not lecture to them.