In Pride and Prejudice, how and why is Elizabeth prejudiced? Does she remain prejudiced?
In this clever and satirical novel of manners by Jane Austen, as is her custom, there is the mixing of the diurnal sense and foolishness, reliability and frivolity, lending the usual blend of comfort, happiness, and disruption. In this world of contradictions, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself vacillating between prejudice and pride. When she first encounters Mr. Darcy at the public ball to which Mr. Bingley has encouraged them to come, Elizabeth overhears the proud Mr. Darcy's comment that there are no girls attractive enough with whom to dance except Jane Bennet; however, Bingley urges him to consider Jane's sister Elizabeth; Darcy disdainfully replies, "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me" (Vol. 1,Ch.4). This remark causes Elizabeth's initial prejudice that is reinforced when she notices that he is watching her whereas, ironically, he has come to notice that her face, rather than being merely "tolerable" is "rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression in her dark eyes." However, Elizabeth finds his eyes to be "satirical" and is unaware of his admiration, thinking only of how he considered her "not handsome enough to dance with."
Despite her prejudice against Darcy, while she is at Netherfield nursing her sister Jane, who has become ill from a drenching rain as she made her journey earlier, Elizabeth does enjoy the debates in which she engages with Mr. Darcy (Vol. 1,Ch. 7). Further in the narrative, there is another surprise encounter between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at at Lady Catherine De Bourgh's residence, Rosings (Vol.2, Ch.7), where they discuss the topic of Wickham, who Elizabeth feels has unjustly been denied a position as clergyman at the rectory the Darcys oversee. Still finding Darcy unpleasant and arrogant, Elizabeth allows her prejudice to prevent her from clearly discerning the real personalities of the two men. She is truly influenced by those who are more cordial in contrast to the brooding Darcy. She also believes that Darcy has prevented Bingley from marrying Jane; consequently, she refuses his first proposal of marriage. (Vol 2, Ch.11)
....that he should have been in love with her for so many months! so much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friends's marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case, was almost incredible!....But his pride, his abominable pride....
Mr. Darcy pursues Elizabeth, handing her a letter the next day that explains his actions. In it he exposes Wickham's devious nature as he took 3,000 pounds in place of the appointment of clergyman, then returned penurious and tried to seduce Darcy's sister, but Darcy was able to prevent her marrying Wickham, fortunately.
It is this letter that illuminates the real person that Darcy is, and Elizabeth, at last, recognizes that he is a man of integrity and honor (Vol.2,Ch.13) and she feels "a contrariety of emotion." As she walks, Elizabeth cries aloud, "How despicably have I acted!....How humiliating is this discovery." But, she memorizes Darcy's letter, and later comments that Darcy "improves on acquaintance."
Later, Elizabeth comes to realize how fine a marriage with Mr. Darcy it would be, but after Lydia runs off with Wickham, she fears such a disgrace will prevent any marriage with Darcy. However, when Mrs. Gardiner takes Elizabeth to Pemberley, Mr. Darcy appears and wishes for Elizabeth to become acquainted with his sister. In turn, Elizabeth explains to her aunt about Wickham and Darcy. Her appreciation for him grows and finally she re-encounters him at Longbourn (Vol 3, Ch.16) and expresses her gratitude to him for intervening on behalf of Lydia; he tells her "I thought only of you." Moreover, he apologizes for his excessive pride, and credits Elizabeth "By you, I was properly humbled....You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."