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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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What points does Austen use to construct her theme of pride in Pride and Prejudice?

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The theme of pride is dealt with in two ways. Both Elizabeth and Darcy recognize their errors of pride and make amends. Several salient, or prominent points in the novel help depict both Elizabeth and Darcy letting go of their pride.

One of the salient points is found early on in the novel. While Elizabeth is staying at Netherfield with her sick sister, during conversation, Darcy makes the point that pride is actually not necessarily a character failing. As he asserts, "Pride--where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation" (Ch. 11). In one sense he is saying that one can and really should take pride in one's "real superiority of mind." This can refer to intelligence as well as moral superiority. He is also saying that one who is morally superior will be able to regulate his/her pride so that it does not turn into conceit. It turns out that Darcy is actually right on this point. The novel shows that there really are people who lack understanding and have inferior principles and morals. Mrs. Bennet lacks understanding and constantly acts with impropriety. Mr. Wickham also lacks any principles or morals. In comparison to both of these characters, Darcy truly is superior. His sense of morality leads him to rescue Elizabeth as well as the whole Bennet family from Lydia's immoral behavior. Hence, in this sense, as Elizabeth declares to her father after Darcy's proposal has been accepted, "Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable" (Ch. 59).

A second salient point is the moment Elizabeth realizes that it is actually she who has improper pride. After she reads Darcy's letter explaining his thoughts on the behavior of her family as well as telling the story of his history with Wickham, Elizabeth realizes that she has not only completely misjudged Darcy but Wickham as well. The irony is that Elizabeth is always accusing her sister Jane of being incapable of accurately judging people because she sees too much goodness in people, while the reality is that Elizabeth herself has been completely incapable of judging people. Elizabeth now feels ashamed of taking such pride in her abilities to judge, as we see when she declares, "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! ... Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind" (Ch. 36). Hence we see at this crucial point that it is truly Elizabeth who has been guilty of pride rather than Darcy.

However, it is true that Darcy felt himself to be above his company and in that he recognizes his error. Hence, a third salient moment occurs towards the end of the book when Darcy confesses that he was raised to have good principles but left to follow his principles in "pride and conceit" (Ch. 58). He recognizes that it was Elizabeth who showed him the error of his ways. 

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