The Role of Minor Characters in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Perhaps the most striking part of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is her mastery of characters and the effects that each has on the plot, themes, and the other characters’ actions. Though her minor characters are much less visible than the major ones, she still uses them as an integral part of the novel by weaving them into situations to enhance the plot and themes.
Caroline Bingley is first introduced with the crowd of her brother, Mr. Bingley, his friend, Mr. Darcy, and her other sister, Mrs. Hurst. Her superior place in the class system compared to those in the Bennet family is evident both in the narration and dialogue of Austen’s novel. Her opposition to Elizabeth stems primarily from her disdain for her unladylike manner, (such as in Chapter 17 when Elizabeth meets Jane after she falls ill, appearing with petticoats six inches deep in mud) as well as her jealousy in terms of Darcy’s favoritism to her. However, her opposition to Jane is only due to her desire to have Mr. Bingley marry Georgia Darcy, a girl possessing a much higher birth and wealth than the equally pleasant Jane Bennet. Like many other characters in this novel, her belief that love is less important in marriage than the opportunity to increase one’s place in society is an important theme felt by every character.
Charlotte Lucas is another character that embodies the previously mentioned theme of practicality over love in marriage. When Charlotte marries Mr. Collins after Elizabeth rejects him, her willingness to sacrifice the security of a comfortable marriage with Collins over the happiness of a marriage of love is shown. While the more class-conscious Mrs. Bennet credits Charlotte for this decision, Elizabeth can only feel pity for her friend as she feels that Charlotte will be doomed to a lifetime of insipid company.
A minor character with many ties to different plot lines is Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Both as an aunt to Mr. Darcy and as Mr. Collins’s employer, she interacts with many characters to forward both the plot and themes of the novel. She is perhaps the greatest example of Austen’s belief that an obsession with class is silly. By her words and actions, she shows that she believes many are below her stature. Later in the novel, when she and Elizabeth take a walk and converse on the subject of Mr. Darcy’s partiality to Elizabeth, she continues the well-established theme of practicality over love in marriage by stating that Mr. Darcy is to marry her daughter Anne, not one of a lowly stature such as Elizabeth.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, aunt and uncle of the Bennet daughters, are perhaps the most admirable minor characters. These two characters serve not only to forward the plot, but also to act as a comparison to Mr. Gardiner’s sister, Mrs. Bennet. Acting as parents to both Elizabeth and to Lydia in two very different situations, they exhibit much of the sense that Mrs. Bennet lacks in both controlling Lydia and nurturing Elizabeth. This pair also acts as a vital stepping stone between Darcy and Elizabeth in terms of class stature. By both giving Elizabeth an opportunity to break her former prejudices of Darcy when they visit Pemberley by finding out his better qualities via the maid, as well as even giving Elizabeth better company than her immediate family in terms of respectability, these two characters allow the gap between Darcy and Elizabeth to be bridged somewhat.
Minor characters can help reveal what the major characters cannot tell about themselves, both by being confidantes and by offering a standard to compare and contrast the other characters with. Though minor characters seem to play little importance in the novel when inspected upon the larger scale, one cannot ignore their importance in terms of both plot and theme enhancement.
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