Pride and Prejudice follows the lives of the five Bennet sisters and their parents, especially focusing on the second eldest daughter Elizabeth. Though weary of her mother's desperation to place each of her daughters in good marriages, Elizabeth finds herself drawn to Mr. Darcy, a proud and wealthy gentleman who is attracted to Elizabeth because of her intelligence and wit. Amidst the drama of their friends' and families' lives, both must overcome preconceived notions and expectations in this story that explores class, love, and social change.
The ladies of the Bennet household finally meet Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley's two sisters at a ball in Meryton. Mr. Darcy is judged as "the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world" because of his reserved manner. Mr. Darcy also refuses to dance with anyone outside of his own party, and snubs Elizabeth Bennet by saying she is "tolerable," but not a worthy dance partner. Elizabeth overhears Darcy's reply and tells all her friends. Mr. Bingley, in contrast to Mr. Darcy, is judged to be amiable and good natured. He danced first with Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's neighbor and friend, and then twice with Jane. After returning home, Mrs. Bennet tries to relate the events of the ball to Mr. Bennet, but he does not want to hear it and becomes annoyed.
Jane confides to Elizabeth that she admires Mr. Bingley and that she believes he is everything a young man should be. Elizabeth approves of Mr. Bingley, but she points out that Jane never sees a fault in anyone. Elizabeth is critical of the snobbish Bingley's sisters, and their behavior toward the Bennet family, Jane insists that they are pleasant in conversation and are going to make good neighbors. Elizabeth remains unconvinced.In spite of their opposite personalities, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are long-time friends. Bingley is the easy-going, affable person, very much like Jane, and Mr. Darcy is the proud, haughty, sharp-witted person, very much like Elizabeth. While Bingley enjoyed the Meryton ball, and found the company quite amiable, Darcy saw no female outside his party with wished to dance or speak to Though he does acknowledge Jane's beauty, Darcy comments that she smiles too much. The Bingley sisters agree that Jane is the best of the Bennet sisters and feel that Bingley is "authorised by such commendation" to think what he likes of her.
Mrs. Bennet and her daughters beg Mr. Bennet for a description of Mr. Bingley, but he refuses to do so. The women rely on the neighbor, Lady Lucas, to describe Mr. Bingley to them. They find out from Lady Lucas that Mr. Bingley intends to be at the next assembly. Mrs. Bennet continues to imagine one of the daughters marrying Mr. Bingley, though they still have not met him. Mr. Bingley returns Mr. Bennet's visit and sits with him in the library, but does not get to meet the daughters. Mr. Bennet is invited to dinner but declines, as he must go out of town.
It is first reported through the grapevine that Mr. Bingley will bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly, then the number changes to a party of six, five women (his sisters) and a cousin, but at the assembly there are only five altogether in the party: "Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man." Mr. Bingley is described as "good-looking and gentlemanlike" with a "pleasant countenance," and "easy, unaffected manners." His sisters were described as "fine" with an "air of decided fashion." But it is Mr. Darcy who captures the attention of the room with his fine, "handsome features." Mr. Darcy, however, is soon found to be proud by those at the assembly as he seemed to feel "above his company" and thus has a "disagreeable countenance." Mr. Darcy is then judged "unworthy to be compared" to Mr. Bingley.
Mr. Bingley circulates through the room, making friends. He is described as "lively and reserved." He danced every dance and was unhappy when the ball ended so soon. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, danced only two dances, one with Mrs. Hurst and one with Miss Bingley. Mrs. Bennet, in particular, did not like Mr. Darcy as he slighted Elizabeth by refusing to dance with her. There is a rather important exchange between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley when Mr. Bingley tries to convince Mr. Darcy to dance. Mr. Darcy replies that there are no suitable partners for him. Mr. Bingley replies that Elizabeth Bennet is sitting with no partner. Mr. Darcy replies that Mr. Bingley is dancing with the only beautiful girl in the room, that being Jane Bennet. Mr. Bingley insists that though Jane is the most "beautiful creature" he has ever seen, the room is full of women who are "uncommonly pretty," one of them being Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Darcy replies that Elizabeth is "tolerable" but "not handsome enough to tempt" him. Elizabeth overhears the exchange and relates it to all her friends "with great spirit."
When the girls return home, they relate the night to Mr. Bennet, who has been reading a book in his library. They tell him about Elizabeth being slighted by Mr. Darcy, about how proud and rude Mr. Darcy was, that Mr. Bingley had danced twice with Jane, and that the entire party seemed to like Jane.
Jane confides to Elizabeth that she likes Mr. Bingley very much, and that he is "just what a young man ought to be." Elizabeth responds that he is also handsome. Jane says what a compliment it was that Mr. Bingley asked her to dance a second time. Elizabeth says that she was not surprised, and that Mr. Bingley is "agreeable." Elizabeth teases Jane by saying that she could have "liked many a stupider person." Jane talks about Miss Bingley, Mr. Bingley's sister and says that Miss Bingley will be a "charming neighbor." Elizabeth is not convinced, as she thought both Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley "proud and conceited."
Mr. Bingley's fortune is discussed, as is his sister's desire to see him settled at an estate. The friendship between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley is described as "steady." Mr. Darcy is described as "fastidious with his manners" and "well bred" but also "haughty" and "reserved." Mr. Darcy is described as someone who is "continually giving offence" because his manners are "not inviting." Mr. Bingley is described as Mr. Darcy's opposite: personable, likeable, and not stiff at all, with no formality to her demeanor. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are described to have tolerated it all. The two sisters are said to like Jane, but "smiles to much."
The Meryton ball is the first place where the reader sees the characters interact with one another in a social setting. It also introduces the reader to the two main couples in the novel: Jane and Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy. These two chapters also foreshadow how these relationships will develop. From the start, Jane and Bingley find one another attractive and both have simple, amiable, and easy-going natures that make them popular with others. There is no difficulty within either one of them that keeps them from being attached to one another. On the contrary, it is the involvement of the people around them, namely Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters, who will come between Jane and Bingley. The fact that Bingley waits for his sisters' approval before feeling "authorised" to like Jane show how easily he is influenced by their opinion.However, Elizabeth and Darcy have vastly unfavorable first impressions of one another, which hampers their romance from the start. Elizabeth is quick to judge Darcy and proud and her own pride at being snubbed for a dance prevents her from seeing much good in Mr. Darcy at all. Because of Elizabeth's pride and Mr. Darcy's social class-consciousness, neither one of them retains a good impression of the other after the ball.
The Meryton ball reinforces what the reader has already begun to notice about Jane and Elizabeth. While Jane assures Elizabeth that the Bingley sisters are pleasant women who make good conversation, Elizabeth remains skeptical and urges them to be haughty. In fact, Elizabeth dislikes the sisters immediately, and will rarely change her view of them throughout the novel.