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 next day Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. His proposal is wrapped into a long-winded speech in which he explains how it is appropriate for him to now marry and that he wants to marry one of the Bennet daughters so that he may lessen the difficulty of the estate entailment. Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins' proposal but Mr. Collins refuses to believe that she is sincere in her refusal and says that he knows it is the custom of females to say no when what they really mean is yes. Elizabeth repeats her refusal, but still Mr. Collins does not believe her so Elizabeth leaves the room.In chapter twenty, Mrs. Bennet becomes livid when she hears that Elizabeth has refused to marry Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bennet asks that Mr. Bennet force Elizabeth to change her mind. Mr. Bennet agrees to speak with Elizabeth, but tells her that he would not like her to marry a man like Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bennet does not give up and continues to try and persuade Elizabeth to accept the proposal. Charlotte Lucas comes to visit and eventually Mr. Collins accepts Elizabeth's refusal, calling her a stubborn girl.
First thing in the morning, Mr. Collins asks Mrs. Bennet if he may be alone with Elizabeth. Elizabeth blushes, but before she can object, Mrs. Bennet says yes. Elizabeth begs Mrs. Bennet not to go, but she does so anyway, as she wants Mr. Collins to propose to Elizabeth. Mr. Collins mistakes Elizabeth's pleas as modesty. As soon as they are alone, Mr. Collins proposes marriage. His speech is so pragmatic, and so long-winded, that Elizabeth can hardly keep herself from laughing. She then interrupts him and says that she cannot marry him. Mr. Collins states that it is his understanding that women often say no the first time they are asked. Elizabeth then seeks to convince Mr. Collins that she really does mean it when she says no to his proposal. Mr. Collins continues to argue with her, stating that he has the approval of her parents and that he still thinks she is simply playing hard to get. Elizabeth then asks him to speak with her father, if he will not be convinced by her words alone.
In chapter twenty, Mrs. Bennet enters to congratulate Mr. Collins on the engagement as soon as Elizabeth exits the breakfast room. She is upset to learn that Elizabeth has declined the proposal, but tells Mr. Collins that Elizabeth will soon be brought to reason. However, Mr. Collins states that he is not so interested in a woman who's that "headstrong and foolish." Mrs. Bennet tries to persuade Mr. Collins that Elizabeth is only headstrong in matters such as these. Mrs. Bennet then goes to the library to find Mr. Bennet and tells him what Elizabeth has done and expects him to "make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins." Mr. Bennet calls Elizabeth downstairs and tells her that she is in an awkward position, for her mother will never speak to her again if she does not marry Mr. Collins, and he will not speak to her again if she does. Mr. Collins, who thinks so highly of himself, cannot understand why his cousin has turned him down. Charlotte Lucas then comes over. Lydia and Kitty tell her what has happened. Mrs. Bennet tries to make amends with Mr. Collins, but he does not want to speak on the subject any longer.
In chapter twenty one, Mr. Collins tries his best to ignore Elizabeth and turns his attention to Charlotte Lucas. The girls walk to Meryton and meet Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth is surprised to find that Mr. Wickham chose to stay away from the Netherfield ball. Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley; it explains that the party has returned to London with no intention of returning. The letter also insinuates that Mr. Bingley does not hold any affection for Jane, and that Caroline Bingley would take no pleasure in being Jane's sister. Elizabeth tries to convince Jane that no one who has seen the two of them together could doubt his affection for her, and that Caroline Bingley simply wants Mr. Bingley to marry Miss Darcy. Elizabeth goes on to say that they are not "rich enough" or "grand enough" for Caroline Bingley. Jane isn't convinced, and refuses to believe that Miss Bingley could think such things.
Mr. Collins' proposal, and his reaction to Elizabeth's refusal, reiterates his absurdity as a character. The way in which the proposal is delivered makes it more suitable as a business proposal than an act of love. Thus, Austen again confronts the reader with the marriage as a business theme. Again the reader is reminded that marriage often provided a means of economic security for the women of her time period, and love was often secondary to the economics. Mr. Collins explains to Elizabeth that his purpose in coming to Longbourn was to find a wife, to appease Lady Catherine and to fix the breach between his family and the Bennets. Only after he explains this does he mention that he has feelings for Elizabeth.Mr. Collins' inability to believe that Elizabeth is sincere in her refusal is comical. Her repeated refusals demonstrate how little respect he has for Elizabeth's opinion and how conceited he is. Mr. Collins finds it impossible to believe that a woman like Elizabeth could refuse a man in his position, with such patronage. Mr. Collins' speeches are not an expression of genuine feeling, but rather an opportunity to fulfill social obligation. Even when Elizabeth speaks sincerely tells him that she has no feeling toward him; he assumes that her words, like his, are the fulfillment of a female societal expectation to refuse a proposal the first time it is made. Mr. Collins' words and speeches are insincere, so he assumes that everyone else, when they speak, is just as insincere as he. The conceit of Mr. Collins prevents him from seeing any possible reason why Elizabeth would not want to marry him. Mr. Collins sees himself as a good catch, and considers marriage a partnership for social and financial gain, rather than a relationship built on love and mutual interest. This business-like view of marriage is expressed throughout the novel.
Charlotte Lucas comes to the Bennet house just as Elizabeth has declined Mr. Collins' proposal. However, Elizabeth mistakes her eagerness to engage Mr. Collins in conversation as a favor to Elizabeth. Charlotte, in reality, seeks to marry Mr. Collins. Thus, Elizabeth has again misjudged the character of a person, this one being a close friend. Though Charlotte has expressed these views to Elizabeth, it is not until and thus relieve the Bennets of the task, just as she did at the night of the ball, is presented by Elizabeth as an act of kindness on Charlotte's part. Charlotte's attention toward Mr. Collins foreshadows that another marriage is soon to come.
Because Mr. Bingley's absence is explained only through a letter from Caroline Bingley, the reader is allowed to draw his own conclusion as to the reasons. Their behavior toward one another at the Netherfield ball leaves no doubt that they are attracted to one another. But the previous description of Bingley's character, that he so readily accepts the suggestion of his friends and family, leaves the reader to believe that his sister has finally talked him out of his attachment to Jane.