Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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What are examples of irony in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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There are three different types of irony: dramatic irony, situational irony, and verbal irony. All types of irony are a contrast between what's literally expected and what actually happens. Dramatic irony is achieved when the audience or reader understands more about what is happening as a result of the action than a character understands at the time (Kansas State University, "Critical Concepts: Dramatic Irony"). Situational irony is achieved when the audience is led to believe something else will happen as a result of a situation than what actually happens ("Critical Concepts: Situational Irony"). Verbal irony is the most common and can also be called either sarcasm or facetiousness. Verbal irony is achieved when a person says something that literally means one thing but the speaker means to imply the exact opposite.  Dr. Baker of Kansas State University gives us the example of a mother saying to her son in reference to his television viewing, "When you're finished with your serious studies there [television viewing], maybe we could take some time out for recreation and do a little math" ("Critical Concepts: Verbal Irony").

We can certainly see all uses of irony throughout Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. One example of verbal irony can actually be seen in the very first sentence of the book: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." We can clearly hear the facetiousness, meaning non-literal and humorous tone, in the sentence because it is certainly not true that a man wants to marry simply because he has a fortune; therefore, it is certainly not a "truth universally acknowledged." Austen particularly uses hyperbole, meaning exaggeration, to build the verbal irony expressed in this sentence.

We can see dramatic irony created as the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth begins to develop. There are several moments early in the novel in which it is very clear to the reader Mr. Darcy is beginning to feel attracted to Elizabeth, such as when he comments on her "fine eyes"; yet Elizabeth sees all of his remarks to her as being antagonistic. Hence, Darcy's proposal comes as a surprise to Elizabeth, but the reader isn't at all surprised.

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One could argue that the biggest irony in Pride and Prejudice is that two people who seemed so completely incompatible—Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy—end up falling in love and getting married.

For much of the story this seemed like an unlikely outcome, to say the least. The brooding, aloof figure of Mr. Darcy always seemed far too proud to marry beneath himself. He was pretty scathing about the Bennets, seeing them as frightfully vulgar and ill-bred, certainly not the kind of family he'd want to marry into. And yet, miraculously, he's able to put aside his overweening pride and realize that Lizzie is the woman for him, whatever his sniffy relatives may think.

As for Elizabeth she has somehow been able to overcome her prejudice in marrying Darcy. She always saw him as such a proud, disdainful individual. Though rich and handsome, his snobbishness was always a major turn-off for her. And when the scheming Mr. Wickham starts telling tales about Darcy, Lizzie is only too ready to believe his lies.

Yet she too is able, by a remarkable series of events, to overcome her preconceptions. On the face of it, this is no less ironic than Mr. Darcy's own quite remarkable transformation.

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