Theme: Themes Related to Social Class Developed Through Characterization This lesson plan focuses on identifying themes related to social class as they are introduced through three major characters (Elizabeth, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy) in Pride and Prejudice. Students will determine the social class of the characters, describe their personal traits, and examine their behavior in several chapters from the beginning of the novel. From their study, students will identify major themes introduced in the novel, explain how they are developed through characterization, and support their interpretations with textual details. Upon completing this lesson plan, students will be better able to describe the influence of social class in Pride and Prejudice.
One of the most famous first lines in English literature is found in Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The sentence immediately introduces the theme of marriage, a topic that is explored in the novel by following the character of Elizabeth Bennet, the second oldest of five daughters in a family of landed gentry, and her relationship with a man of great wealth and property named Mr. Darcy. The first line also establishes the wry humor and irony which Jane Austen employs throughout the book; as the reader quickly realizes, the novel is not so much about the fact that a “single man” wants a wife—but that a single woman, particularly one without a fortune, is in dire need of a husband. The marriage theme is also explored through the characters of the Bennet sisters and Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas. Jane Austen once described her work as existing within “that little bit (two inches wide) of ivory, in which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.” However, in focusing so narrowly on the life and trials of the Bennet family, its daughters, and their suitors, Austen creates in Pride and Prejudice a surprisingly incisive and revealing portrait of how social ritual, class, and gender were woven into the fabric of life in eighteenth-century England. That Austen’s original title for the book was First Impressions provides fodder for discussion; there are clear episodes in the plot that illustrate how exterior markers such as appearance or fortune don’t always provide an accurate basis for making assumptions or judging others too quickly. The eventual title, Pride and Prejudice, perhaps encapsulates this theme more precisely. The novel also depicts the reality that women—particularly if they were unfortunate enough to have their family estate entailed away as in the case of the Bennet daughters—were rarely in positions of power or authority. In creating the witty, intelligent, and assertive character of Elizabeth Bennet, Aus- ten found a way to challenge the constraints of gender and the paradoxical rules that governed social institutions like marriage. Few novels from any time period have the long-lasting cultural relevance of Pride and Prejudice. It has been adapted into well-known television productions, such as the BBC miniseries starring Elizabeth Ehle and Colin Firth; a 2005 film version earned its star, Keira Knightly, an Oscar nomination. It also has inspired many other works with titles ranging from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2005) to Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), a murder mystery by well-known author P.D. James. Jane Austen was born in 1775, the seventh child of the rector of Steventon parish located near Basingstoke, England. She remained at Steventon with her family until her father retired in 1801 and they moved to Bath. From the time she was a child, she wrote stories. Four of her novels were published during her lifetime, including Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). Two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published after her death in 1817.