What are Mr. Darcy's strengths and weaknesses?

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The reason why Pride and Prejudice is still so widely beloved is because Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are flawed but redeemable characters. There are two aspects to note here which have contributed to the book's continued impact in regards to those flaws and the redemption that follows.

One is that misguided characters make for much more interesting storytelling. Imagine if Jane and Mr. Bingley were the center of attention in the novel. Through no "fault" of the lovely couple, it would probably be a rather boring tale. Jane - while good, kind and sweet - is barely anything other than that. To anyone reading this, I'd issue a challenge to find a description of Jane without two of those three adjectives. As for Mr. Bingley, he is almost as hopeless in the sense that he struggles with agency and inner drive - to the point where he is more like a leaf in the wind than an actual force in his own life.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, while they have their share of problems, can be called neither boring nor passive.

The other reason is that the faults Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have are believable. Quite often, authors feel the need to give their heroes and heroines some quirk or a flaw that would make them either memorable or relatable. The reason for this is what was discussed before. Some of them fail in the execution, however, adding the flaw like an animator adds a funny hat - it feels out of place and once it's removed, nothing fundamental about the character changes.

Austen's Pride and Prejudice works because Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are actual, relatable human beings.

Mr. Darcy is the product of his environment and his upbringing. He was born into a wealthy family with all of the burdens and pleasantries that station brought. On the one hand, he has never had to worry about money. It's quite natural that a man who is secured for life can't quite imagine the state of affairs of those who are not. This is more obvious when you look at how it's easier for him to interact with the Bingleys and his aunt, as opposed to Elizabeth and her family. He recognizes that there is something crucially different about the lives they lead. At first, it makes him fairly uncomfortable. As the novel progresses, he becomes more empathetic without resorting to pity.

The wealth, which seems like such a carefree thing, is also a duty to him. Mr. Darcy feels the pressure to live up to the expectations that society has for a man like him. It's the reason why, as the novel begins, he thinks that both he and Mr. Bingley should find upper class brides. Even in his meanness - best exemplified by the ball at the beginning of the book and the famous remark that starts it all - you couldn't say Mr. Darcy is mean. It is not his intention to hurt Elizabeth, but rather to distance himself from someone he deems unworthy at that moment of time.

It doesn't excuse the rudeness, of course, but it's the first of many instances which show how well-balanced the characters of the protagonists are. Among other things, Mr. Darcy prides himself on being a gentleman, which is the reason why he almost immediately regrets his words. You could say it begins the train of thought that eventually makes him into a better, more humble man. As I previously said, he is a product of a society with strict rules of behavior and class. With that comes expectations, borders, and lines that should not be crossed. Meeting Elizabeth opens Mr. Darcy's eyes to the possibility that not all of those rules should be followed. Throughout the book, they - mostly by accident - work to cure each other of their pride and prejudice.

The readers then get to see the real man, with all his strengths and weaknesses. He is strict and straight-forward, but not unkind. He thinks he knows better than other people, but he does not believe himself to be infallible. He acts rashly, but will not let his pride get in the way of making up for his mistakes. They paint a picture of a proud, stubborn man with a good heart that we've come to appreciate as one of fiction's best heroes.

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Mr. Darcy's failures parallels Elizabeth's in regards to misunderstanding and misinterpreting what could be accurately observed.

What are some things Darcy misunderstands and misinterprets?

He misunderstands and misinterprets (1) his social duty regarding Wickham ("[he] confessed that he had before thought it beneath him to lay his private actions open"), (2) his presentation of his nature to people ("His character was to speak for itself"), (3) the effect of his proposal to Elizabeth ("'I shall never forget: "had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."'"), (4) Jane's feelings for Bingley ("'though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them'"), (5) the effects of marriage into the Bennet family ("its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination").

Darcy has more frequent clarity than Elizabeth.

With perhaps a little more frequent clarity than Elizabeth, there are instances in which Darcy has correct understandings and interpretations of that which he observes. This calls up the question: Why would Austen make Darcy a bit more astute than Elizabeth? It would not be in support of the cultural prejudice against women since part of the thematic intention of Pride and Prejudice is to protest that cultural prejudice. Perhaps Austen's choice represents an accurate presentation of the cultural disparity between the public education and experience that gives men the advantage of wider exposure.

Austen can never be used to illustrate the notion that upper class women were poorly educated, although Elizabeth and Jane do illustrate that upper class women were narrowly educated--narrowly in subject and depth--and confined in experience. This is perhaps the reason Darcy has a few more significant instances in which he correctly understands and interprets what he observes: he has broader, deeper education and experience.

What does Darcy correctly understand and interpret of what he observes?

Mr. Bennet's flaw of satirical parental negligence: "The mischief of neglect and mistaken indulgence..."

Mrs. Bennet's flaw of prideful behavior, impropriety and crassness: "total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by [your mother]..."

The meaning of Lady Catherine's failure in her confrontation with Elizabeth: "'It taught me to hope ... as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.'"

How to correct his behavior after Elizabeth's rebuke and rejection of his marriage proposal: "'I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to.'"

With perhaps as many failings as strengths, why is Darcy so appealing to readers?

Mr. Darcy, who makes such a bad first impression, is one of the most beloved heroes in literature. What makes him so beloved in the hearts of readers?

Of Austen's characterizing techniques, three stand out as especially significant. The first is that, before he has gone along too very far, Austen characterizes him as keenly observant and as having the same serious criticisms of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet that we have (this provides support for the ideas that Mrs. Bennet is not just a foolish character meant for comic relief and that Mr. Bennet is not just a satirical diversion).

The second is that Austen very soon shows him as yielding and able to change. For him, Elizabeth's beauty increases with his appreciation of intelligence emanating from her "fine eyes" and with the thoughtful concern that motivates her otherwise ill-advised walk to Netherfield resulting in her freshened "complexion."

The third and key characterization technique Austen uses in regards to endearing Darcy to readers' hearts is the letter he writes to Elizabeth. Readers feel the sincere transparency of his words. When Darcy finally has a chance to show his improved, inner character, gracious, kind, and ready to help the Bennet family during Lydia's elopement, he is fully immortalized as one of literature's best loved heroes.

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