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Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen, deals with the issues that the title itself describes, pride and prejudice. The characters in the novel share similar qualities when it comes to being prideful and being prejudice against others. This can be seen the most with one of the main characters in the novel, Elizabeth Bennet. To further understand Elizabeth and the reason Jane Austen gave her such qualities, it is important to look into her character. Elizabeth Bennet can be analyzed as a character in terms of her pride and prejudice, the way she comes to recognition of herself, and the way she illustrates the moral theme of the novel.
Elizabeth Bennet’s most noticeable qualities are her pride and prejudice. This can be seen right away in the beginning of the novel after the first ball where the Bennets meet Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. At first, Elizabeth does not show signs of being prideful or showing prejudice against the guests.
Yet, this changes right away after Mr. Darcy expresses his feelings towards her saying things such as calling her tolerable; but not handsome enough to temp him (Austen 9). This causes Elizabeth to become prejudice against Mr. Darcy as well as Mr. Bingley and his sisters. She also shows her pride much more throughout the rest of the novel.
A day or two after the ball, Austen mentions how Elizabeth listened to Jane talk about how pleasant Mr. Bingley and his sisters were. On the other hand, Elizabeth felt that their behavior at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgment too unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them (Austen 12).
In other words, Elizabeth felt that all of them, except for Mr. Bingley, were extremely unpleasant and refused to accept them; and even though she does not express it herself at first, it is clear that the reason behind it was Mr. Darcy’s comment about her.
From that point on, in the novel, Elizabeth has powerful feelings against Mr. Darcy. She believes that she will never reach a point of acceptance towards him no matter what he does. She even allows other things to feed the prejudice she develops towards him. An example of this is shown when she believes the story that Wickham tells her about Mr. Darcy. The way she allows the story to control her emotions shows a bit of immaturity on her part.
Elizabeth Bennet also exhibits her pride when it comes to her family. Even though her family is poor and not as well educated, she does not believe that they are any less than a wealthy and educated family. The irony in this is that her family is so bizarre that even D. A. Miller, a critic of Austen’s work, describes Elizabeth’s pride as a psychic process of denial. In which she denies everything in her vulgar, dysfunctional family, who also lacks economically (Miller 317).
Elizabeth Bennet may have had her reasons to show her pride and be prejudice against Mr. Darcy. After all, the way Mr. Darcy behaved in the beginning of the novel was nothing close to polite. The comments that he made about Elizabeth were rude; and it was those comments that sparked Elizabeth’s hatred towards him. Whether she had her reasons or not, it is important to note that she also did not allow herself to give Mr. Darcy the benefit of the doubt. Even if his rudeness and pride were justified, she would have no way of knowing at this point in the novel.
Elizabeth Bennet’s pride and prejudice are her biggest flaws throughout the novel. It is these qualities that move the plot of the story forward as she confronts Mr. Darcy on several occasions. Despite her flaws, it is imperative to also analyze the way that Elizabeth matures and develops positively as a character. If there is any dislike towards Elizabeth as a character, Jane Austen makes sure to eventually bring her to achieve self-knowledge.
There are certain instances in the novel where we can see a bit of kindness within Elizabeth while speaking to Mr. Darcy. At one of the balls, when Elizabeth denies Darcy’s request to a dance, Jane Austen states, “Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody”(Austen 38). In this way, Austen starts to hint that Elizabeth is not by default prideful and prejudice towards others. In the book Discussions of Jane Austen, Reuben A. Brower mentions that Elizabeth’s attack on Darcy and her archness have an irony beyond the irony intended by the speaker (Brower 78). There is room for her to improve and the reader can concur that she will eventually develop more.
There is a very clear point in the novel when Elizabeth really starts to change. As stated by Felicia Bonaparte, another critic of Austen’s work, this happens almost at the middle of the novel. A letter sent from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth that represents the turning point of Pride and Prejudice (Bonaparte 347). Perhaps this was done on purpose by Jane Austen, but it is here that the story will take a complete turn.
Elizabeth’s crucial change in character is due the letter from Mr. Darcy. In this letter Mr. Darcy explains, as stated by Michael Hardwick in his book A Guide to Jane Austen, that Wickham had repaid them by attempting to elope with Mr. Darcy’s sister. When finally realizing the truth, Elizabeth experiences a slight warming of feeling for Mr. Darcy (Hardwick 138). The story that Wickham had previously told Elizabeth was a lie and she had allowed that story to influence the way she felt towards Mr. Darcy. She felt that he was a horrible person before she even bothered to learn the truth. This makes Elizabeth feel terrible and as a result, begin to think that maybe Mr. Darcy is not such a dreadful man.
Elizabeth Bennet is an amazing example of great character development. She starts with negative qualities which she works on to become a better person. She admits that she is wrong about Mr. Darcy and allows herself to be more open-minded when dealing with him. By doing so, she now has to deal with mixed feelings about Mr. Darcy. She tries to accept him more but is now confused by the way he acts at times. Elizabeth wishes to accept Mr. Darcy and see his more positive side but is confronted by her confusion at times; such as his visit with Mr. Bingley to the Bennet’s household. In which, this time, he did not say a word to Elizabeth. To this she wonders why he would even show up to be silent, grave, and indifferent (Austen 231).
It is when she allows herself to appreciate Mr. Darcy more that she starts to experience feelings of affection, and the side effects that come with that. That is, feelings such as eagerness to speak to Mr. Darcy, and then desperation when no conversation happens. Elizabeth Bennet changes from a woman filled with pride, to a woman that now wishes and almost prays for a second proposal from Mr. Darcy. She knows that it is foolish to think that any man with dignity would propose a second time after he has been denied already. Yet, her newly found humbleness has led her to hope for a second proposal. Elizabeth’s change in character is what will eventually bring her together with Mr. Darcy in marriage. A marriage that she considers to be perfect for her, with the best man that she could possibly have ever wished for.
To continue, Elizabeth Bennet can be further analyzed as a character with the way she illustrates the moral theme of the novel. It is obvious that the main topics of the novel are pride and prejudice. These are the two things that go on throughout the entire novel. Every character at some point in the novel will show both themes. An interesting article written by Theodore Benditt, confirms that the central idea of Pride and Prejudice is pride. Furthermore, pride also takes place in other novels written by Jane Austen. This is important to know because in each of those other novels, pride is shown differently. This introduces the idea that not all pride is the same (Benditt). For that reason, we must look into the type of pride that Elizabeth exposes as a character.
Elizabeth’s pride does not show entirely natural. She does not possess it in the beginning of Pride and Prejudice. It is the kind of pride that develops out of resentment towards another person. In her case, this happened with Mr. Darcy’s comment. As a character, she believes that she must not allow her or her family to be looked down upon by others. She turns a blind eye to her family’s inappropriate behaviors and feels that the issue are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley’s family.
Although, she develops this pride and prejudice, it is not the kind that will stick with the character forever. In this case, Jane Austen uses Elizabeth to show that sometimes those negative qualities can be conquered. Elizabeth is not by any means a bad person and she shows her true personality when she starts to accept Mr. Darcy. Another very important point that Benditt points out in his article is that some pride can also be proper. This is the case with Mr. Darcy, who according to Elizabeth herself, has no improper pride (Austen 257). Elizabeth’s pride, on the other hand, is improper.
As a character, Elizabeth Bennet illustrates the theme of having improper pride and dealing with achieving self-knowledge during the process of getting rid of that pride. Another essential theme that Elizabeth has to deal with is prejudice. Perhaps this is a result of being prideful, but it is the most negative out of the two. Elizabeth becomes a perfect example of why being unfairly judgmental is a tremendous issue. If it was not for her positive resolve, she might have never married Mr. Darcy, the man that she loves.
In conclusion, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen deals with the main themes of pride and prejudice. Although shown by all the characters in the novel, these two themes can be best seen in the main character Elizabeth Bennet. To better understand Elizabeth, she was analyzed in regard to her display of both pride and prejudice, her achievement of self-knowledge and the way she illustrated the main ideas of the novel.
Aside from her negative start, Elizabeth is a great example of a character that is willing to change for the better. Jane Austen’s brilliant use of the character teaches a valuable lesson that sometimes pride and negative judgment can get in the way of meeting amazing people. This is something that everyone will experience at some point in life. Still, the way a person deals with those negative qualities can pave the way for a joyous or miserable life!
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