Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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Student Question

What is the moral lesson of Pride and Prejudice?

Quick answer:

The primary moral lesson of Pride and Prejudice is to not be too prideful or judgmental toward others. Elizabeth and Darcy are inclined to see the bad in one another initially. Darcy is prejudiced against the unsophisticated people who live in the country, and this initially blinds him to Elizabeth's many positive attributes. In turn, Elizabeth's wounded pride prejudices her against him. Eventually, they both learn to overcome their flaws and see how well-matched they are.

Expert Answers

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We can find many different moral lessons in Pride and Prejudice depending on which subplot we analyze. The moral lesson of Lydia’s story is different from that of Charlotte Lucas’s, for instance. However, the overarching moral lesson of the work, as the title suggests, has to do with the pitfalls of being too prideful or being too prejudiced against another person or group.

Each of the main characters, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, is guilty of both pride and prejudice. When Mr. Darcy first enters the neighborhood, he is inclined to dislike the locals. They are country people and thus, he assumes, not as sophisticated and well-mannered as he is. His prejudice and pride blind him initially to the intelligence, quick wit and beauty of Elizabeth Bennet, whom he quickly dismisses. Over time, as he comes to know Elizabeth better, Darcy begins to recognize her many attributes. As he realizes how incorrect his first impression was, he increasingly regrets his initial cold and arrogant behavior toward her.

After her pride is wounded when Darcy refuses to dance with her, Elizabeth becomes prejudiced against Darcy. When Charlotte makes excuses about Darcy’s pride being a natural outcome of his lofty social status and position of wealth, Elizabeth openly admits that his refusal to dance wounded her pride:

“That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”

From this point on, she only notices his negative qualities and ignores any of his positive attributes. This prejudice leaves her susceptible to being persuaded of Darcy’s malevolence by the dishonest Mr. Wickham. Once Elizabeth learns the truth about Darcy, and about Wickham, her eyes are opened to how her prejudice rendered her foolish and recognizes that her behavior was wrong.

Darcy and Elizabeth are certainly not the only two characters to have too much pride. However, their pride is tempered by self-awareness, intelligence, and a willingness to learn, to understand and evolve. While Elizabeth and Darcy are cured of their excess pride by the end of the novel, several other characters, such as the unlikeable Mr. Collins, never really change for the better and remain as foolishly prideful at the end as they are at the beginning:

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man . . . the respect which he felt for [Lady Catherine's] high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

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