Pride and Prejudice Themes

  • Created by: Ellie48
  • Created on: 26-11-17 16:28


First impressions

- Austen shows how our first impressions can prejudice us. For example Lizzy was taken in by superficial aspects of Mr Wickham's character and this influenced her desicions later in the novel. Elizabeth, whom we know is usually very discerning quickly belives the lies told about Mr Darcy as they are supported by her initial prejudice.

- Elizabeth's first impression of Darcy is catalayses her prejudice against her especially when he describes her as "tolerable". Elizabeth is proud of her ability to judge character so she stubbornly sticks to her opinion of his allowing it to blind her. 

- As Elizabeth is usually at the narrative, and is presented by Austen in a sympathetic light it is hard for the reader to see past her prejudices until she herself realises she was "wretchedly blind" - a strong expression showing just how much these prejudices affected her.  Elizabeth finally seeing past her prejudice is an important moment for the development of her character. 

Prejudice is widespread throughout the novel

- Prejudice revolving around social class makes Miss Bingley cruel and she judges Jane on her "low connections". 

- Darcy is prejudices against anyone of a lower class highlighted when he says "the inferiority of your connections" 

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Austen shows how pride can lead people to make rash mistakes through blinding characters of someone's true nature. 

Elizabeth - she prides herself on her ability to judge others. This is damaging as it means she stubbornly follows her inital prejudices that are very flawed.  Elizabeth says Darcy "mortified" her pride at the ball showing that she does have a fairly high opinion of herself. When Elizabeth discovers how proud and prejudiced she was she says "till this moment, I never knew myself" - this hyperbollic language ("never") shows how blinding pride can be. 

Darcy - his pride means he acts as if people of a lower social class are beneath him and not worth pleasing. Darcy does manage to overcome his pride after he is labelled "arrogant" by Elizabeth. 

Lady Catherine - she is perhaps the proudest character in the novel her "air was not conciliating, nor was the manner of receiving them" Lady Catherine did not feel she had to make an effort to entertain her guests as she is of a higher status than them. 

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Reputation is more important, and vulnerable to criticism, for women than men.

- When Lydia and Wickham elope together she may have to be "secluded for the world" showing that due to her ruined reputation she could be ostracised by society. Wickham on the other hand would suffer some"disgrace in the corps" but his reputation would not be pemanentely damaged. 

Reputation is often based on shallow factors

- The reputations of Darcy and Wickham are both based on false superficial factors as highlighted by Lizzy's surmise "one has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it." Austen is saying that reputations should be based on a proper understanding of a person's character. 

- Lady Catherine - Elizabeth is told by Mr Collins is an instance of "elegant breeding" - showing Lady Catherine's reputation is based on her high social status. This is deeply ironic as we see she is acutally extremely rude and arrogat with an "authorative tone" marked with "self importance" 

Family has an important effect on repuation 

- Darcy is opposed to Bingley marrying Jane due to her family's "total want of propriety". Lydia's scandal could have ruined the reputation of the entire Bennet family. Darcy goes to such measures to save Lydia partially so Elizabeth is still fit to be married.

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Marriage is central throughout the novel and the culmination of the novel is the two happy marriages between Darcy and Lizzy, and Jane and Bingley. The importance of marriage is made clear right from the first sentence "It is a truth universially acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" - this is ironic and marrying - it is actually the single women seeking a wealthy husband. There was a general societal pressure to be marries especailly on young women who were in danger of growing too old. Lydia says she would be "ashamded... of not being married."

Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins - this marriage is not based on love. It is simply convinviet for Mr Collins and provides financial security for Charlotte. Charlotte understands that a life as an unmarried women would be a desolute one. She would be a burden on her family. Charlotte marries for the "disinterested desire of an establishment" 

Mr and Mrs Bennet - Their marriage is not a happy one. Mr Bennet was "captivated by youth and beauty" and married her before he realised how ridiculous she was. Through them Austen shows that appearance alone is not a good basis for a well functioning marriage. 

Elizabeth and Darcy - Their marriage is by far the most developed and complex. Their characters both had to considerably develope before they could be wed. The are shown to be ideally suited and clearly love each other for the right reasons. Their personalities complimmetn each other.

Jane and Bingley - their marriage is slighlty shallow and hasty but their personalities are so similiar that the pair are presented as very likely to be happy in the future. 

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Social class

Socail class had a big influence on people's lives and way much more highly valued that it is today. 

Austen's exploration of social class is limited as she only writes about what she has personally experienced. 

There are strong views within society about "marrying down" and Lady Catherine would consider a marriage to Lizzy as a "degration" to Mr Darcy. Characters have a tendency to ocus more on wealth and class than on their real personality e.g Mrs Bennet is desperate to "secure" Mr Bingley due to his wealth she does not consider whether on not he is an amiable man. 

Austen critisises judgements based on social class

She believes that people are prejudiced by class and that these judgements are unfair. Charlotte Lucas says Darcy "has a right to be proud" due to his high status. Austen doesn't agree with this sentiment and asks the reader to question it through the straighforward tone Charlotte uses. Darcy did not earn his money he was simply very fortunate with his birth. Mr Darcy has to overcome his prejudice against Elizabeth's connection and learn that intelligence and manners are more important.

Austen uses satire to mock class prejudices

Austen presents both Lady Catherine and Mrs Bennet as rude and embarrasing to their families showing there is not real difference between people with status and those without. The foolish characters are awed and amazed by Lady Catherine. Even though she is extremely rude to Mrs Bennet the latter is still "flattered" and describes her as "civil"

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Manners and Class

-Characters are graded on how much money they possess and how they aquired it.

Austen shows how true  gentility is demonstated by behaviour and not socail status. One revealing scene is when Lizzy and her aunt are visiting Georgiana who is too shy to speak. The wealthy Bingley sisters do nothing  to help but the paid companion does. The narrator comments that her "endeavour to introduce some kind of discourse, proved her to be more truly well bred than either of the others." -  Austen speaks through the narrator to make her point directly. Generally she allows her characters to revel themselved but she stresses the unfairness here through stating what is going on. 

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The family as a social unit

In the Regency era society teneded to consider the family as a unit. The social standing and reputation of your relatives was very important 

- Miss Bingley scorns the fact that Jane and Lizzy's uncle "lives somewhere near cheapside." They believe him to be inferior to themselves due to where their relations live (In reality Mr Gardiner is presented as a very gentleman like man) 

- Pulblic bad behaviour of one family member can damage the reputation of the others - as Elizabeth finds at Netherfield ball. For Mr Darcy the Bennet family's collective "want of propriety" was a strong motive to seperate Bingley and Jane even though Jane exhibited no damaging behaviour herself. 

- Lydia's elopement with Wickham is very serious for the whole family. The story spread around the neighbourhood within hours and all five sisters are at risk of being disgraced due to the silliness of the youngest. 

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The happiest marriages in the novel shows that Austen believed love and real understanding was more important than social status and shallow attraction.

True love is based on gradual understanding. "You must allow me to tell you who ardently I admire and love you" Elizabeth and Darcy have to overcome their first impressions and prejudices before their love can succeed. They learn from each other helping them both change for the better becoming more aware of their own faults and more tolerant and undertanding. This prossess means their final relationship is even stronger.

Love should be based on both emotion and reason - Darcy and Lizzy agree not to marry people due to sensible reasons and loving one (Darcy can't marry Lizzy due to her connections, he won't marry Anne- he doesn't love her) (Lizzy can't marry Wickham as he is poor, she orignially rejects Darcy as she doesn't love him) The relationship is finally resolved around practicality and romace. Darcy is "exactly the man who... would most suit her." This contrast Lydia, who only follewed her rash heart, and Charlotte who was too sensible.

Problems women faced when expressing love

In the Regency era a women being too flirtatious and open was considered vulagar damaging her reputation. On the otherhand as Charlotte said sometime they need to "show more affection" to make sure the man is aware they like him. For Charlotte securing a husband,any huusband, is very important. Jane is very private about her feelings in contrast with the snobby Miss Bingley. This seems to show that Austen thinks keeping your love somewhat private is preferable.

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The role of women

Women were invariably subservient to men.

Women were excluded from a large part of society, and they could not visit a new member of town unless the male figure in the house did first. This left women reliant on men. 


They were expected to be "accomplished" in things such as art, reading and music. Mastering these skills would make a woman more attractive in finer company. To an extent Austen mocks the need for a woman to be accomplished through the personality of her central femal character Lizzy who we can admire for her witty personality and intelligence rather than practical skills. "I never saw such a woman".The accomplished Bingley sisters are still unpleasant snobs.

Importance of marriage

Austen acknowledged a women's need to marriage so she could have some financial security and independence to a degree, but she still believed marriage without love was terrible. Austen is extremely sardonic towards the marriages where love in not considered (eg charlotte and collins) 

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Money and financial security

Mercenary world

The focus on money in the novel reflets that which Austen saw around her in her everyday life. A women with no fortune was oblidged to seek a wealthy husband and vise versa. Elizabeth's own situations as a single women is precarious, as her father's estate is entailed away. Her determination to still marry for love is a testimant to be character. She harshly critisises Charlotte's decision. Mrs Bennet is fixated with marriage due to the financial position of her daughters. 

I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins' character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state." - Charlotte ended up marrying for marriage

- Money played a crucail role in ensuring the novel ended happily. Mr Darcy had to pay Wickham to marry Lydia and through doing so preserved Lizzy's repuation so he could marry her. 

"and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year." - There is a big focus on Darcy's wealth

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