“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The beginning of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous first lines in English literature. Witty and satirical, it suggests the subject of Austen’s novel and her attitude toward many of the characters and the class-conscious society they inhabit in 19th-century England. When Charles Bingley, a young, wealthy bachelor, moves into an estate near Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s country home, Mrs. Bennet makes it her mission to see Bingley marry one of the Bennets’ five daughters. The two oldest, Elizabeth and Jane, are introduced to Bingley at a ball, and the plot becomes complicated when his friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy—also young, single, and rich—attends, as well. Jane’s developing relationship with Bingley and Elizabeth’s with Darcy form the core of the narrative, while other characters are brought into the novel as Austen examines human nature, as well as social class in her society. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, and Darcy are featured in chapters 1–5, and their initial character traits and relationships are quickly established through dialogue.
Austen often describes the characters through exposition, but dialogue is another means through which she reveals their motivations, character traits, and relationships with others. Diction (word choice) plays an essential role in writing dialogue because it creates mood in the text while developing characters and establishing events in the plot and subtexts in the novel. Consequently, interpreting dialogue and diction in scenes between and among characters is an effective tool to employ in understanding them. The following activity will help students analyze passages of dialogue in chapters 1–5 of Pride and Prejudice and determine how they reveal the characters.
Skills: character analysis, drawing inferences from text, interpreting diction for connotative meaning
In completing this activity, students will
- analyze passages of dialogue to identify the speaker’s character traits, conflicts, and motivations;
- examine the diction in passages of dialogue to interpret the connotations of key words and explain how they create mood in the scene;
- determine from passages of dialogue characteristics of the speaker’s relationship with another character in the novel.
Our eNotes Classroom Activities give students opportunities to practice developing a variety of skills. Whether analyzing literary devices or interpreting connotative language, students will work directly with the text. The main components of our classroom activities include the following:
- A handout defining the literary elements under discussion, complete with examples
- A step-by-step guide to activity procedure
- An answer key or selected examples for reference, depending on the activity
In completing these classroom activities, students will be able to classify and analyze different literary elements, thereby developing close-reading skills and drawing deeper inferences from the text.