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.
There are instances of pride throughout the novel with most of the characters: Jane's way of reusing to show her affection for Mr. Bingley, Lady Catherine's pride in not wanting Elizabeth to marry Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins' prideful way of bragging about his patroness and his stature in the community to those around him. But from the beginning of the novel, pride prevents the main characters, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, from seeing a person's true character, and this failure to see truth in character creates obstacles that they must overcome in order to obtain happiness in life and love. Pride creates a barrier between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from the beginning, as Mr. Darcy is too proud to dance with a woman like Elizabeth, and after being spurned, Elizabeth is too prideful to give Mr. Darcy a second chance. Mr. Darcy's pride in his position in society leads him to initially scorn the people, like Elizabeth, who live outside his social circle. Elizabeth's judgment, in return, is clouded by her pride and vanity. Once she begins to think ill of Mr. Darcy, it becomes difficult for her to forgive him, or to think he could be something other than a proud and haughty man. Elizabeth's pride further clouds her judgment when she meets Mr. Wickham, as she allows herself to think well of him with no real proof that he is of good character and Mr. Darcy is not. Ultimately, it is Elizabeth's pride and her refusals to marry Mr. Darcy that make him realize his faults. Mr. Darcy's genuinely friendly treatment of the Gardiners as they visit Pemberley with Elizabeth, his negotiation of the marriage between Lydia and Wickham, and his continued feelings for Elizabeth, in spite of her harsh words for him, prove his worth in the end. Though Darcy's pride first caused him to scorn Elizabeth because of her lower social class, and Elizabeth's pride caused her to rebuke Mr. Darcy's hand in marriage, both characters manage to swallow their pride in the end, and their ability to do so ensures their marriage and subsequent happiness.
Both themes of pride and prejudice are intimately connected in the novel. Because of Mr. Darcy's prideful rebuke of her, Elizabeth is prejudiced against his character for most of the novel. It is only when Elizabeth is faced with proof of Mr. Darcy's character, in the form of his hand written letter that her prejudice against him begins to die. There are many instances of social prejudice throughout the book, where those in a higher social standing hold a prejudice against those of a lower standing. The Bingley sisters are an example of such social prejudice, as are Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. To be fair, Mr. Darcy was brought in such a social circle, and was taught such prejudice from childhood. In order for Mr. Darcy to gain the love of Elizabeth, and to overcome her own prejudice against him, he must learn to overcome his prejudice of her social standing. When Mr. Darcy meets Elizabeth and the Gardiner's at Pemberley, the reader begins to see his prejudice melt away and is evidenced by the civility in which he treats the entire party, even inviting Mr. Gardiner to fish in his ponds. Because the Gardiners are of a much lower social class than Darcy, his kind civility toward them is evidence of his willingness to overcome his prejudice. Elizabeth's pride in herself is marked by what she thinks is her own ability at perceiving the true character of people. However, because of her prejudiced attitude toward Mr. Darcy, she is willing to quickly believe Mr. Wickham's story about Mr. Darcy, thus clouding her judgment.
Family and Marriage: The family is of primary importance in the novel, as is marriage. From the start, since the Bennett estate is entailed away from the female line, the reader begins to understand the importance Mrs. Bennett places on her daughters marrying well. The reader also begins to see the hardship placed on women of 19th century English society. If the Bennett's had produced a male heir, the Bennett daughters would have been cared for and there would have been no need for the girls to rush into marriage. But throughout the book there are other instances of women marrying, not for love, but to secure a place in society, or a home. Charlotte Lucas, for example, marries Mr. Collins though she does not love him and knows that she never will love him. Lady Catherine wishes that Mr. Darcy marry her daughter, not because they love each other, but because it will combine the family fortunes. The family is responsible for the intellectual and moral education of children, and in this realm, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett have failed miserably. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's failure to provide an education for their daughters leads to foolish and immoral behavior, as evidenced by Lydia's elopement to Wickham. Elizabeth and Jane are constantly forced to put up with the foolishness and poor manners of their mother and the sarcasm and bad judgment of their father. When Elizabeth advises her father not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, he ignores the advice because he does not want to deal with Lydia's complaining. The result is the scandal of Lydia's elopement with Wickham, a scandal that Elizabeth and Jane must bear, a scandal that would have ruined the girl's chances of marrying well, if not for the involvement of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth's independence and wit is a sign of Austen's belief that women were as intelligent and capable as men. The reoccurring theme of marriage for convenience shows the reader how unjust was the society of the time. Elizabeth is happy, even though she refuses marriage for financial gain. Elizabeth knows she will only be happy if she is married to a man she can respect.
Social class is evident throughout the novel and there is an unspoken criticism of class and how important it is in the prospect of marriage. Mr. Darcy's enormous pride is based on his knowledge that his social class is higher than most around him. Mr. Darcy, however, eventually sees that there are other factors involved in a person's wealth. In contrast, Elizabeth has her own set of prejudices against those of a higher social class than she, often assuming from the start that they are proud. Characters such as Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Bingley's sisters, are portrayed as idle and mean-spirited, women who will do anything to keep people like Elizabeth out of their social circle. Mr. Collins and his relationship with Lady Catherine serve as a satire to the higher social class, as he is portrayed as silly and pampas and she is portrayed as constantly needing praise.