Pride and Prejudice

evaluate austen use of narrative strategies to present her characters

how she uses her characters to illustrate the social world she depicts and how they represent her ideas on human nature and values

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 1
Add Yours

Pride and Prejudice Narrator:

Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

Third Person (Omniscient)

The narration typically stays with Elizabeth, although it occasionally offers us information that Elizabeth isn't aware of (like Charlotte's pursuit of Mr. Collins). This third person view lends a cold dimension to the novel, in the sense that dialogue, opinions, ideas, and events dominate the story rather than emotions. Elizabeth is the exception to this rule – Chapter 36, for example, is devoted entirely to her emotional transformation following her receipt of Darcy's letter. In contrast, even though we do often get to hear the thoughts of others, it's usually in shorter, less complex bursts.

One totally cool feature of the way the book is narrated is Austen's use of a tricky little doo-dad called "free indirect discourse." This is when a character's thoughts or spoken words are reported without quotation marks (or some other kind of indication, like the phrase "she thought" or "he said"). This lets Austen hook the reader into some of Elizabeth's bad judgment. How long would we have gone along with Wickham's lies if it weren't for the way every time he gives some long rationalization, Elizabeth's voice pipes up through the narrator? For example, after Wickham spins his sob story, we get this passage:

Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips's supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. (16.58)

Look at how easy it is to feel like the judgments here come from straight from the narrator – but read it again and you'll see that all of the praise (that his story is "rational" and "satisfying," and that he's got the kind of face a defense attorney would love, what with his "graceful" manners that "recommend him to everybody") comes straight from the head of our girl Lizzie.

There's one other minor thing we have to mention. At the very end of the book, the narrator speaks in first-person:

I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life.

Why do we have "third person (limited omniscient)" up there instead of "first person"? For starters, this is the first and only time the narrator uses "I." She wants us to believe in the third person narration, and the third person narration rings true because it's omniscient and doesn't insert much opinion. Or does it? How often does the narrator inject her own perspective?