The Roles of Pride and Prejudice: It was commonly held in Austen’s time that novels ideally should serve two purposes: entertainment and moral instruction. The moral focus of Pride and Prejudice is found in the book’s title. Most of the characters in one way or another exhibit these two tendencies, and the main plot hinges on Elizabeth and Darcy being able to overcome them. It’s an example of Austen’s nuanced approach to the story, though, that pride and prejudice aren’t presented as unqualified flaws. Throughout the novel there are commentaries on pride’s virtues as well as its faults. There’s also a gray area between prejudice and discernment in some of the key decisions and judgments the characters make.
- For discussion: What are the most crucial examples of pride and prejudice exhibited by Elizabeth and Darcy? How and why do these characteristics change for them over the course of the novel? Do some facets of pride and prejudice remain in either of them at the end? If so, is that a bad thing?
- For discussion: How do pride and prejudice show themselves in the novel’s other characters, such are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lady de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Wickham?
- For discussion: Elizabeth’s sister Jane is the exceptional character who shows few, if any, signs of pride or prejudice. Does that make her a better person than Elizabeth? Why or why not?
Love and Other Considerations in Choosing a Marriage Partner: In the world of Pride and Prejudice, marriage is about more than love. It’s a union that, for women, is most often the single factor that will determine their economic and social standing in life, and for men it can be a means of stability or upward mobility within a highly class-conscious, stratified society. Throughout the novel there are examples of marriage that are entirely practical (Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins), primarily founded in mutual affection (Jane and Mr. Bingley), and the result of delusion and manipulation (Lydia and Wickham). Though he hardly has the personality of a wild-eyed romantic, Darcy is, out of all the characters, the one who’s most obviously driven to choose a spouse because of love. It’s a luxury afforded to him by his great wealth.
- For discussion: How would the story have played out if Darcy weren’t rich? If he had been a military officer like Wickham, is there any scenario in which he could have won Elizabeth’s heart?
- For discussion: Did Charlotte Lucas make a mistake in marrying Mr. Collins? Why or why not?
- For discussion: Is the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet more happy or unhappy? Which of the younger characters do they most resemble? Which of the novel’s new marriages will end up most closely resembling the Bennets’?
The Balance Between Realism and Satire: Pride and Prejudice, with its multidimensional protagonists and its focus on the practical concerns of England’s landed gentry, was a groundbreaking work of realism. At the same time, it was a biting satire. Many of the secondary characters are caricatures of English society: Mr. Collins, the sycophantic clergyman; his patron, Lady de Bourgh, the domineering noblewoman; the Bingley sisters, snobbish, backbiting socialites; Wickham, the classic rogue. Pride and Prejudice demonstrates how realism and satire can successful play off one another. It’s a given that secondary characters are less developed and less nuanced. Through satire, Austen makes them memorable and engaging, while using them to level criticism against the society she lives in.
- For discussion: Was Austen more successful as a realist or a satirist?
- For discussion: Which of the secondary characters seem the most realistic?
Jane Austen, Feminist?: Pride and Prejudice focuses on the experiences of women, and its protagonist makes bold choices in rejecting the proposals of Collins and, on the first occasion, Darcy. Given the confining context of her society, Austen feels like a protofeminist writer. But she creates a world in which Elizabeth experiences no negative consequences...
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