PrideAs said in the words of Mary at the beginning of the novel, "human nature is particularly prone to [pride]" (Volume I, Chapter 5). In the novel, pride prevents the characters from seeing the truth of a situation and from achieving happiness in life. Pride is one of the main barriers that creates an obstacle to Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage. Darcy's pride in his position in society leads him initially to scorn anyone outside of his own social circle. Elizabeth's vanity clouds her judgment, making her prone to think ill of Darcy and to think well of Wickham. In the end, Elizabeth's rebukes of Darcy help him to realize his fault and to change accordingly, as demonstrated in his genuinely friendly treatment of the Gardiners, whom he previously would have scorned because of their low social class. Darcy's letter shows Elizabeth that her judgments were wrong and she realizes that they were based on vanity, not on reason.
PrejudicePride and prejudice are intimately related in the novel. As critic A. Walton Litz comments, "in Pride and Prejudice one cannot equate Darcy with Pride, or Elizabeth with Prejudice; Darcy's pride of place is founded on social prejudice, while Elizabeth's initial prejudice against him is rooted in pride of her own quick perceptions." Darcy, having been brought up in such a way that he began to scorn all those outside his own social circle, must overcome his prejudice in order to see that Elizabeth would be a good wife for him and to win Elizabeth's heart. The overcoming of his prejudice is demonstrated when he treats the Gardiners with great civility. The Gardiners are a much lower class than Darcy, because Mr. Darcy is a lawyer and must practice a trade to earn a living, rather than living off of the interest of an estate as gentlemen do. From the beginning of the novel Elizabeth prides herself on her keen ability for perception. Yet this supposed ability is often lacking, as in Elizabeth's judgments of Darcy and Wickham.
FamilyAusten portrays the family as primarily responsible for the intellectual and moral education of children. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's failure to provide this education for their daughters leads to the utter shamelessness, foolishness, frivolity, and immorality of Lydia. Elizabeth and Jane have managed to develop virtue and strong characters in spite of the negligence of their parents, perhaps through the help of their studies and the good influence of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who are the only relatives in the novel that take a serious concern in the girls' well-being and provide sound guidance. Elizabeth and Jane are constantly forced to put up with the foolishness and poor judgment of their mother and the sarcastic indifference of their father. Even when Elizabeth advises her father not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, he ignores the advice because he thinks it would too difficult to deal with Lydia's complaining. The result is the scandal of Lydia's elopement with Wickham.
Women and MarriageAusten is critical of the gender injustices present in 19th century English society. The novel demonstrates how money such as Charlotte need to marry men they are not in love with simply in order to gain financial security. The entailment of the Longbourn estate is an extreme hardship on the Bennet family, and is quite obviously unjust. The entailment of Mr. Bennet's estate leaves his daughters in a poor financial situation which both requires them to marry and makes it more difficult to marry well. Clearly, Austen believes that woman are at least as intelligent and capable as men, and considers their inferior status in society to be unjust. She herself went against convention by remaining single and earning a living through her novels. In her personal letters Austen advises friends only to marry for love. Through the plot of the novel it is clear that Austen wants to show how Elizabeth is able to be happy by refusing to marry for financial purposes and only marrying a man whom she truly loves and esteems.
ClassConsiderations of class are omnipresent in the novel. The novel does not put forth an egalitarian ideology or call for the leveling of all social classes, yet it does criticize an over-emphasis on class. Darcy's inordinate pride is based on his extreme class-consciousness. Yet eventually he sees that factors other than wealth determine who truly belongs in the aristocracy. While those such as Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, who are born into the aristocracy, are idle, mean-spirited and annoying, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are not members of the aristocracy in terms of wealth or birth but are natural aristocrats by virtue of their intelligence, good-breeding and virtue. The comic formality of Mr. Collins and his obsequious relationship with Lady Catherine serve as a satire class consciousness and social formalities. In the end, the verdict on class differences is moderate. As critic Samuel Kliger notes, "It the conclusion of the novel makes it clear that Elizabeth accepts class relationships as valid, it becomes equally clear that Darcy, through Elizabeth's genius for treating all people with respect for their natural dignity, is reminded that institutions are not an end in themselves but are intended to serve the end of human happiness."
Individual and SocietyThe novel portrays a world in which society takes an interest in the private virtue of its members. When Lydia elopes with Wickham, therefore, it is scandal to the whole society and an injury to entire Bennet family. Darcy considers his failure to expose the wickedness of Wickham's character to be a breach of his social duty because if Wickham's true character had been known others would not have been so easily deceived by him. While Austen is critical of society's ability to judge properly, as demonstrated especially in their judgments of Wickham and Darcy, she does believe that society has a crucial role in promoting virtue. Austen has a profound sense that individuals are social beings and that their happiness is found through relationships with others. According to critic Richard Simpson, Austen has a "thorough consciousness that man is a social being, and that apart from society there is not even the individual."
VirtueAusten's novels unite Aristotelian and Christian conceptions of virtue. She sees human life as purposeful and believes that human beings must guide their appetites and desires through their use of reason. Elizabeth's folly in her misjudgments of Darcy and Wickham is that her vanity has prevented her from reasoning objectively. Lydia seems almost completely devoid of virtue because she has never trained herself to discipline her passions or formed her judgment such that she is capable of making sound moral decisions. Human happiness is found by living a life in accordance with human dignity, which is a life in accordance with virtue. Self-knowledge has a central place in the acquisition of virtue, as it is a prerequisite for moral improvement. Darcy and Elizabeth are only freed of their pride and prejudice when their dealings with one another help them to see their faults and spur them to improve.
Pride and Prejudice Essays and Related Content
- Pride and Prejudice: Major Themes
- Pride and Prejudice: Essays
- Pride and Prejudice: E-Text
- Pride and Prejudice: Questions
- Pride and Prejudice: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Jane Austen: Biography
- Pride and Prejudice Summary
- About Pride and Prejudice
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 1-6
- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 7-14
- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 15-23
- Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters 1-10
- Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters 11-19
- Summary and Analysis of Volume III, Chapters 1-10
- Summary and Analysis of Volume III, Chapters 11-18
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