How does Caroline Bingley contribute to the larger themes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?
Caroline Bingley might be said to contribute to the larger themes of Pride and Prejudice in at least three significant ways:
- social class consciousness and mobility
- women's financial dependence in relation to marriage
- pride and prejudice
While Darcy and Elizabeth are the paramount representatives of the egregious effects of pride and prejudice, other characters reveal additional aspects of the same flaws. Miss Caroline Bingley and Mr. Collins are two who do. Miss Bingley is prejudiced against Jane and Elizabeth because of their country life; their expiring wealth (instead of growing wealth); their social limitations; and the fact that they are not acquainted with London, which is saliently represented as the origin of Miss Bingley's elegance and fashion. Her pride in her family's wealth belies that fact that her father had been in trade; he had made such a success of his business that he was now very wealthy, but his wealth was rooted in trade.
Miss Bingley is desperate to marry Mr. Darcy partly because he is an imposing and impressive figure of a powerful man, of a wealthier family even than her own, of whom she is fond but mostly because he can give her the kind of social power, esteem, wealth and elegance that she covets. In other words, she feels dependent upon Darcy and his wealth to provide her with the means by which to continue to live as she does as a single woman in her brother's household.
Miss Bingley represents England's social class consciousness because all who meet her are overwhelmed by the prestige her fashion and social connections bestow on her. She represents social mobility because she, her sister (Mrs. Hurst) and brother were originally in a lower social class because their father was a working man who conducted his own business. His monetary success in his trade propelled him to the upper class in company with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet as a non-titled person possessing great wealth (though Mr. Bennet's wealth is dwindling). His newly attained wealth gave his family mobility from a lower class up to the upper class.
They were in fact very fine ladies, ... but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in [London], ... were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by [their father's] trade. (IV (4), V. I)