How does Austen use satire to communicate tone and theme in Pride and Prejudice?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners which utilizes satire both in language (tone) and in theme.  Satire, remember, is used in the hopes that making fun of something will prompt a change.  The above post is a great listing of some excellent satiric lines which are indicators of Austen's tone.  I'd only add that satire is also seen in the characterizations she uses which also support her theme. 

There are few types of people who escape Austen's satiric touch. She has little regard for silly, rather empty-headed girls whose primary goal in life was to capture a man and marry well--with little regard to what would happen after the marriage (what to talk about then?) or whether one has learned to be fulfilled without a husband (has she read or developed any interests?).    Austen has all kinds of these girls on a spectrum in this novel, and she makes fun of every one of them--especially those who are part of Elizabeth's own family.

She has no use, either, for rich and titled people who are unwilling to look past the outward trappings of good people--or vice versa (Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine--and both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, of course). 

She is not tolerant of people who appear to be one thing but are not, making them look foolish and giving them, let's say, a very foolish and empty-headed wife (the Wickhams).   And the list goes on.

Obviously Austen was a great advocate for change in the social patterns and class structure of the day, and she used humorous satire as a means of making her point--that it's the inside which is most important. 

mahboobasultana | Student

erm... i need help..

benjigator | Student

P&P has satire through out the entire book. The most outrageous characters in the book like Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine De Bourgh are so over inflated with their self pontificating that Elizabeth Bennet only has to observe and smile at the prideful boasting for the others in the room to observe the situation.

These are the strongest examples of satire:

1. Lady Catherine comes to speak to Elizebeth Bennet about a supposed engagement to Mr Darcy in Chapter 56.

"If you believed it impossible to be true," said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, "I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?"

"At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted."

"Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family," said Elizabeth coolly, "will be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence."

2. In Chapter 19 Mr Collins proposes to Lizzy. The conversation on her part is dripping with sarcasm.

"The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him farther, and he continued --"




book-a-holic | Student

Austen often uses satire in reference to Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine to "poke fun" at the "morals" or "constitutions", if you may, that were put upon British residents in the Georgian and Victorian Eras. Here are some quotes from the book that Austen uses to further show satire:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, SIGNET CLASSICS, Published by New American Library, Introduction Copyright - Margaret Drabble, 1989, Afterword copyright- Eloisa James, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Mr. Collins:

Quote, "I feel myself called upon by our relationship, and my situation in life, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under..." Unquote.

In that quote, Austen uses satire by showing that Mr. Collins, to put it bluntly, believes that just because he associates himself with people of higher rank (Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy, etc...) he is of higher social status also. By believing himself so, he therefore exposes himself to ridicule and mockery. (Volume 3, Chapter Six, pg 281)

Another quote from Mr. Collins:

Quote, "The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this." Unquote.

In this quote, Austen uses satire through Mr. Collins simply by showing how much of a pompous, "people pleas-er" he is. Austen shows that Mr. Collins would rather deal with death, or would prefer death, than to make a ripple, or to ruffle the feathers of society and propriety in that day and age. (Volume 3, Chapter Six, pg. 282)

Here are some quotes from Lady Catherine:

Quote, "And thatI suppose is one of your sisters." Unquote.

Austen uses satire in this particular quote by showing that Lady Catherine, who is looked up to as the example for how you should behave, dress, and be associated with, is stiffly and rudely addressing Elizabeth's sister,Kitty, while showing none of the manners that she sostrongly preachesabout her community. (Volume 3, Chapter Fourteen, pg. 335)

Finally, here is the last quote stated by Lady Catherine:

Quote, "But however insincere you choose to be, you shall not find me so." Unquote.

This is an example of satire because Lady Catherine is stating how "well mannered" she is and how oh so polite she is, while basically rudely and without care, " yelling" at Elizabeth for being unmannerly. (Volume 3, Chapter Fourteen, pg.336)

I hope this helped you!



Read the study guide:
Pride and Prejudice

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question