Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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At a Glance

Pride and Prejudice key themes:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, pride is a central theme; misplaced pride generates both comedy and tragedy, while regulated pride is necessary to good decision-making.

  • Prejudice and swift judgment almost always lead to error and misunderstanding; Elizabeth misreads Mr. Darcy’s character, and Mr. Darcy is too hasty to condemn Elizabeth’s relations.

  • Jane Austen showcases the human ability to change and grow with her protagonists, who both are brought to realize defects in their own characters through interaction with each other.

  • Class conflict comes to the forefront as the rise of the nouveau riche puts the aristocracy on the defensive regarding the value of parentage and pedigree.

  • Marriage is central to Pride and Prejudice as the qualities of good and bad marriages come under the microscope. Austen questions her society’s perceptions of class and money in marriage.

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Themes

The Importance of Moderating Pride

One of Pride and Prejudice’s primary themes is that an overabundance of pride results in arrogance. Many characters exhibit prideful behavior:

  • Darcy is rude and dismissive towards the Bennets and the other country residents, because he views himself as part of a superior class.
  • Elizabeth’s pride in her intellect and judgement cause her to misjudge Darcy.
  • Lady Catherine De Bourgh shows pride in her attempts to interfere in the match between Elizabeth and Darcy in order to uphold her family’s status.
  • William Collins is prideful to the point that he refuses to believe that Elizabeth would truly reject him.

In Elizabeth and Darcy’s case, pride serves as a barrier to understanding. Darcy’s excessive pride causes him to behave condescendingly towards Elizabeth and her family, which inspires Elizabeth to form an unfavorable opinion of him. Elizabeth admits to Jane that she might have forgiven Darcy for his pride had he not “mortified” her own. The implication is that pride itself is not inherently bad, but in excess it results in insult and prejudice. However, even though Elizabeth condemns Darcy for his prideful behavior, she exhibits the same flaw. Her pride in her judgment renders her unwilling to revise her opinion of Darcy. It also leads her to unquestioningly believe Wickham’s lies, because they reaffirm her own beliefs. Only after Elizabeth and Darcy have been humbled by one another are they able to see the truth and make a happy marriage. Darcy still takes pride in his status, and Elizabeth still takes pride in her intelligence, but each has been tempered by humility.

However, the lack of pride can also have negative results. Charlotte Lucas and Jane Bennet both dispense with pride entirely. Rather than pursuing someone who is her intellectual equal, Charlotte marries Mr. Collins in order to ensure her financial future. Though her decision is practical, it is not a choice likely to result in true marital happiness. Unlike Elizabeth, who rejected both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy in the belief that she deserved to be happy, Charlotte settles for the first man to express interest in her. Similarly, Jane, despite being the oldest and prettiest Bennet daughter, is humble to a fault. Rather than openly displaying her regard for Mr. Bingley, she demurs. Though Jane’s humility is portrayed as a virtue, it leaves her open to rejection and ridicule. Ultimately, pride is most beneficial when it encourages people to behave responsibly and is most detrimental when it encourages prejudice or placidity.

The Limitations of Wealth and Class

The opening line of Pride and Prejudice foregrounds the importance of wealth in the novel. Almost every character is defined by society according to their social position and annual income:

  • The Bennet daughters, who will receive very little in their inheritance, are driven by their mother to marry well.
  • Wickham, hounded by gambling debts, is also driven to pursue women who stand to inherit good fortunes.
  • Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, by contrast are comfortably wealthy. For them, contrarily,...

(The entire section is 1,377 words.)