How and why do we look at setting for literary analysis, and what examples can be found in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Setting certainly can be important in literary analysis; however, there are actually three types of setting and not all of them are as equally important for literary analysis.

The first type of setting is the neutral setting. The neutral setting lacks any importance. It is merely the place where the events of the story occur. The second type of setting is the spiritual setting. This type of setting actually represents the values and morals being taught in the book. The third type of setting is the dynamic setting, and it is this type of setting that is actually so important and so vividly described that it actually becomes another character. One example of this type of setting may actually be a haunted house.

Austen's settings in Pride and Prejudice tend to alternate between being neutral settings and spiritual settings. Some of the locations mentioned in the novel lack so much emphasis and description that they simply are locations where events happen. The Longbourn estate is one of those settings. We are never told anything about what the estate looks like, even though we spend so much time there as readers with the characters. It is simply the place where the characters live as the events of their lives unfold. Another neutral setting is the Meryton assembly hall where the first ball of the novel takes place. The events that unfold in that location are far more important than the location itself.

The times when Austen's settings seem to take on the characteristic of spiritual settings is when the setting corresponds with a theme or moral lesson. One of Austen's moral lessons concerns the manner in which the noble class treats others. Rosings Park, home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is one setting Austen refers to while spending a great deal of time criticizing the behavior of the noble class. We are given most of the descriptions of Rosings through Mr. Collins' narration, and all of the descriptions are aimed at showing just how gaudy and excessive Lady Catherine is. For instance, when Mr. Collins compares Mrs. Philips' drawing room to the "small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings," we further learn that in "only one of Lady Catherine's drawing-rooms ... the chimney-piece alone had cost eight hundred pounds" (Ch. 16). Descriptions of Lady Catherine's overly costly furnished rooms in conjunction with her characterization of being condescending helps us to see Austen's ultimate point of criticizing the actions of the noble class.