Class and Class-Consciousness in Pride and Prejudice

Categories: Consciousness

Class and class-consciousness intricately regulate the daily lives of individuals in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, offering a profound glimpse into the societal norms prevalent among the middle and upper class in England during the depicted period. This essay seeks to delve deeper into the exploration of these themes, focusing primarily on their manifestation through characters like Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Miss Bingley, and Mr. Darcy. Austen utilizes the relationships, attitudes, and transformations of these characters to convey a powerful message about the transcendence of class boundaries and prejudices through the transformative power of love.

Class-Conscious Characters: Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh

At the forefront of class-consciousness in Pride and Prejudice stand Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

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They emerge as extreme examples, magnifying the prevalent themes within the narrative and accentuating the societal norms of the time.

Mr. Collins, a character laden with superficiality, frequently exaggerates the grandeur of his upper-class patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. His effusive praise, such as, "her daughter seemed to be born a duchess," underscores the extent of his class-consciousness (P.66).

Lady Catherine de Bourgh, portrayed as an aristocratic figure, exhibits an air of superiority and condescension towards those she deems beneath her social standing. Her disdain is palpable in statements like, "If you wilfully act against the inclinations of all, you will be censured, slighted, and despised by every one connected to him," reflecting her belief in the disgrace associated with any association with lower classes (P.336).

These characters, while extreme in their views, serve as powerful conduits for Austen to highlight the prevailing class-consciousness that permeates society.

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Secondary Characters: Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham

Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham, while not as extreme as Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine, play significant roles in contributing to the portrayal of class-consciousness in Pride and Prejudice. Their attitudes and behaviors add layers to the exploration of societal norms and prejudices.

Miss Bingley's disdain for those of lower classes is evident in her changed attitude towards Jane Bennet when visiting the slums of London. Her societal prejudices become apparent through her actions, emphasizing her class-conscious nature (P.146).

Mr. Wickham, though less overt in his class-consciousness, still represents societal norms that perpetuate distinctions between social classes. These secondary characters, with their nuanced roles, provide additional perspectives on the pervasive nature of class-consciousness.

Transformative Power of Love: Darcy and Elizabeth

The central narrative arc of Pride and Prejudice revolves around the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth, offering a profound exploration of how love can serve as a transformative force, breaking down class barriers and challenging societal norms.

Initially, Darcy's condescending views towards the lower class are apparent. However, as the narrative progresses, especially after his marriage proposal is rejected, Darcy undergoes significant personal growth. His reflection, "The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expression during the whole of it...inexpressibly painful to me," reveals Darcy's acknowledgment of his past shortcomings and a genuine desire for change (P.347). Although complete eradication of class-consciousness might be unattainable, Darcy's marriage to Elizabeth signifies a substantial overcoming of class barriers.

The transformative power of love is further emphasized through Elizabeth's character. Her ability to see beyond societal norms and class distinctions is a testament to the novel's underlying message. The union of Darcy and Elizabeth becomes a symbol of societal change, challenging the status quo and advocating for a more egalitarian society.

Conclusion: Love Transcending Class

Pride and Prejudice, through its portrayal of class and class-consciousness, juxtaposes closed-minded characters with their open-minded counterparts. Characters like Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh exemplify the rigid adherence to social hierarchies, while others like Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, Mr. Bingley, and the transformed Darcy signify a more open-minded approach.

Austen's nuanced exploration not only distinguishes between characters but also underscores the novel's central message: that societal constraints can be overcome through the transformative power of love. As the characters navigate the intricacies of class-consciousness, Pride and Prejudice stands as a timeless commentary on the potential for societal change and the triumph of love over ingrained prejudices.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Class and Class-Consciousness in Pride and Prejudice. (2016, Jul 03). Retrieved from

Class and Class-Consciousness in Pride and Prejudice essay
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