Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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What is humor and how is it used in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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In literature, humor can be employed in numerous ways. With the basic intention to cause the reader to laugh or smile, humor generally depends on the reader's recognition of some attribute of a character or situation that is fundamentally true but is misunderstood by another character.

Jane Austen deploys numerous types of humorous devices throughout the novel, but she also constantly reminds the reader of the serious underlying themes. The exaggerated behavior of many characters—along with the witty verbal exchanges, especially between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy—combined with the author's wry, ironic tone and style to create a humorous effect.

Lizzie Bennet has a love of words that she has acquired from her bookish father, but she often does not see how her words could wound another person. In her initial interactions with Mr. Darcy, she enjoys teasing him as she might do with any of her friends. While their exchanges are humorous, it is clear that Lizzie is enjoying herself at another's expense.

This inappropriate use of humor is compounded in Lizzie's reaction to her friend Charlotte's engagement. Seeing herself as superior to Mr. Collins—in part because he has absolutely no sense of humor—Lizzie has declined his proposal, only to learn that Charlotte has accepted him. In this exchange, Austen uses humor to make a point about kindness and empathy, as Lizzie hurts her friend's feelings by calling Collins "ridiculous."

Throughout the novel as well, Austen makes it clear that humor has its place, but it should be used in moderation—not to cause others pain.

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Humor is a way of presenting things that are amusing. One way to make something humorous is to present something that is absurd, illogical, or lacks common sense. Jane Austen uses many absurd characters to present humor. One is Mrs. Bennet, who is always going on about her goals to get her daughters married, who acts contrary to social requirements, and is always going on about her nerves. Another is Mr. Collins who has no mind of his own, always accepts Lady Catherine's commands, and yet feels very proud about his position as clergyman. A third is Lady Catherine herself, who is rude, condescending, and who traveled all the way to Longbourn to command Elizabeth not to marry Darcy, even though Lady Catherine herself claimed that such a union would be an impossibility.Another way to present humor is through wit. We see a great deal of wit in Elizabeth who is very quick to point out the amusement and irony of a situation. For instance, when Lady Catherine demands to know if she is engaged to Darcy, Elizabeth quickly points out that Lady Catherine has already "declared it to be impossible" (Ch. 14, Vol. 3). A final way in which we see Jane Austen employ humor is through irony. Austen uses many different types of irony, including situational irony, in which there are turns in the plot, and dramatic irony, in which the character's words come...

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back to haunt them. Irony can be amusing because it is intelligent and witty.

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Discuss the use of humor in Pride and Prejudice. 

It is generally known that Jane Austen uses humor in a subtle (yet effective) way in her writings.  Humor is infused into the story through the actions of specific characters whose traits are quite salient from the rest. These characters are often obnoxious (Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, Mary), “full of themselves” (Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, Darcy, Lady Catherine, and Mr. Collins), or foolish (Lydia, Charlotte, Sir Lucas).

These secondary characters’ traits often clash with the main character, creating with their actions a remarkable contrast that results in humor. A good example of this would be the visit of Mr. Collins to the Bennet household.  After the reader witnesses his mannerisms and his fixation with Lady Catherine De Bourgh, his aristocratic patroness, it is evident that Mr. Collins and the main character, Elizabeth, are complete opposites. When he then proposes marriage to Elizabeth, the weirdness of it all creates a very funny situation in which both characters end up in a very awkward conversation. The result was that Elizabeth rejected Collins, and his ego was hurt tremendously.

Therefore, Jane Austen does not openly break from the flow of the narrative to create a funny situation. Instead, she presents specific characters whose behaviors are curious, interesting, and funny. It is through their actions that humor occurs in the story.

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