Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Narrative Style and Point of View

Pride and Prejudice is told from a third-person omniscient viewpoint that primarily follows Elizabeth Bennet. This gives the majority of the novel a detached feeling, as the story focuses more on dialogue and events than on emotions. However, Jane Austen also employs a narrative technique known as free indirect discourse to provide greater insight into her characters.

  • Free indirect discourse is a form of third-person narration that channels the direct thoughts and feelings of characters through a narrator. Essentially, the narrator reports the thoughts of the characters without explicitly telling readers that they are doing so.

A prime example of how free indirect discourse impacts a narrative can be found during George Wickham’s introduction:

Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics—Meryton, the neighborhood, the society; appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter, especially, with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.”

Though the narrator does not directly indicate as much, the biased language—including terms such as “intelligible gallantry”—suggests that these are Elizabeth’s thoughts as opposed to an objective, third-person account. However, because they are being presented as objective statements of narrative fact, readers are more likely to believe they are truthful. The narrator's tendency to present Elizabeth’s opinions as fact allows readers to falsely trust Wickham and prematurely judge Darcy, just as Elizabeth does.

In addition to allowing Elizabeth’s thoughts to flow into the narration, free indirect discourse allows Austen to explore the thoughts of other characters. After Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, the narrative provides a brief look at how Charlotte Lucas comforted him and how their decision to marry came about. Free indirect discourse is also used to indicate Darcy’s growing feelings for Elizabeth. Though the narrator primarily focuses on Elizabeth’s experiences and opinions, Austen’s choice of perspective and writing style breathes life into her surrounding cast of characters.

The Estates as Symbolic of the Characters

Pride and Prejudice is not a heavily symbolic novel, but the prominent estates are often representative of their inhabitants. When Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins at the Hunsford parsonage, she describes their abode as “neat” and “comfortable,” which also describes their marriage in general. There is little love between the Collinses, but Charlotte seems pleased to have her own humble house to run and Mr. Collins is pleased to have a respectable wife to run it. By contrast, Lady Catherine de Bourgh ’s estate, Rosings, is grand and impressive. Mr. Collins provides Elizabeth with a number of details regarding the costs of the different fixtures. However, in Elizabeth’s eyes, the building is more expressive of status and decadence than of comfort or elegance. Much like Lady Catherine, Rosings is...

(The entire section is 9,649 words.)