Pride and Prejudice Essays and Criticism
by Jane Austen

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Major Themes in Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is full of character-driven themes that revolve around the literary concept of “comedy of manners.” A comedy of manners is a literary work that deals with young lovers attempting to unite in marriage, and usually includes several incidences of witty commentary from the main characters, which can take form in terms of anything from clever flirting to open warfare, as in the case of Darcy and Elizabeth. Pride and Prejudice is mainly concerned with the pairing of several couples and the issues surrounding each of those couples. The pursuit of marriage in this novel brings the other major themes to light.

The novel’s title itself indicates one of the major themes of the novel. All of the characters in this novel (with the exception of Jane and Bingley) suffer from the sins of both pride and prejudice. This is evident in Darcy’s introduction, when the entire neighborhood is set against Darcy (and he against them):

Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien—and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand a year . . . and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance (6).

Thus Hertfordshire society looks down upon Darcy for the remainder of the novel. This introduction to Darcy also demonstrates an important point about the relationship between pride and prejudice—one leads to the other. The affront that the neighborhood has suffered by Darcy’s refusal to interact with them leads to their prejudice. Darcy, possessing pride as well, is no better, as he develops a bias against the neighborhood and the Bennett family in particular. This intolerance leads to Darcy’s interference in and prevention of Jane and Bingley’s romance. Elizabeth also suffers from both pride and prejudice, as her mortification over Darcy’s description of Elizabeth as “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt” him (7), and his proud behavior at the first party at Netherfield, as she rejects Darcy’s first proposal:

“From the very beginning, from the first moment, I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry”(145).

While Darcy and Elizabeth are alike in terms of personality and ability, and the offer of marriage would be financially and socially advantageous to Elizabeth, her hatred of Darcy, based on her impression of him, determines her decision.

Austen presents two solutions to the problems created by pride and prejudice. The first is to avoid either. Jane and Bingley exemplify this idea. Neither has any pride, and they are not easily prejudiced by the comments of others. When Jane hears of the rumors regarding Wickham, she refuses to believe any of them without proof, whether it is Wickham’s claims of Darcy’s abuse, or Wickham’s infamous escapades with money and Georgiana Darcy. Bingley is of a similar mindset, and refuses to believe or internalize any of the criticisms of his sisters or Darcy regarding anyone in Hertfordshire. Jane and Bingley’s capability to avoid both pride and prejudice is what brings about their happiness at the end of the novel, because their goodness is truly unaffected.

For most of the characters, as well as the rest of us, the faults of pride and prejudice cannot be so easily remedied. Austen gives the...

(The entire section is 8,108 words.)