Is there character development in Pride and Prejudice?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, there absolutely is character development in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; in fact, the development of the two protagonists--Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy-- is arguably the driving force behind the novel's narrative and its ultimately happy ending!

When we first meet Elizabeth, she is an intelligent, witty, and keenly observant young woman who (although in possession of a sense of humor) is also afflicted by a sense of cynicism about the world around her. This attitude and her sense of superiority largely stems from her misgivings about the capabilities and intellectual capacity of others. She fully admits that she has a great deal of pride, which is a quality that she recognizes in Darcy upon meeting him: "I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine." Her first impressions of Darcy and her quickness to react to him are also indicative that she is prejudiced against him. This is the trouble with Elizabeth: she is fast to judge and eager to collect evidence that her own beliefs are "right," even as the conflicts that she conjures are often self-perpetuated because of her stubborn disposition. By the end of the novel, Elizabeth allows these negative tendencies to loosen their hold of her. She grows and transforms as she opens her mind to the fact that she is not always right and to the realization that she may have wrongly evaluated Darcy, his character, his intentions, and his actions. 

We see a similar sense of development within Darcy, who begins the novel as a cold, aloof, hypercritical man who highly values his own social and economic status and views those in lesser social positions as beneath him. Darcy puts forth a frigid and uninformed assessment of Elizabeth's family and of her sister Jane's interest in Bingley. It is this self-aggrandizing mindset that triggers the initial hostility between Darcy and Elizabeth; he honors truth over sensitivity, outdated ideals over reality. In order for Darcy to grow, he must resolve his judgments of her and her family and become self-actualized as a feeling--not just thinking--man. This heroic transformation occurs when he takes direct action to save Lydia's reputation from the loathsome Wickham. 

By the story's end, both characters have relinquished their ignorance and the absurdity of their judgments in order to come to a similar conclusion: "vanity, not love, has been my folly." 

 

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Pride and Prejudice

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