Pride and Prejudice Essay
On pride and prejudice, which in your opinion comes in for sharper criticism from Austen. Support your answer by referring to specific incidents and episodes.
pride n., v., 1. high (or too high) opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, worth, etc. 2. the condition or feeling of being proud. 3. a noble sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self respect; self esteem. prejudice n., v., 1. an opinion (usually unfavourable), formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
2. disadvantage resulting from some judgement or action of another. 3. the resulting injury or loss. In my opinion, pride comes in for the sharper criticism by Austen. She has chosen to personify this trait in several characters in “Pride and Prejudice” although it is hard to find one character who portrays prejudice alone, throughout the novel. When prejudice does occur in this novel, Jane Austen has shown it in the hands of a notoriously proud character. Because prejudice is not personified (ie.
depicted as a major characteristic flaw) I believe that it was not to be the object of Jane Austen’s sharper criticism.
Jane Austen has depicted pride in her minor (functional) characters as a means of demonstrating it’s importance as a theme of this novel. Lady Catherine is one of the main offenders, her airs, arrogance and pride are fuelled by other characters like Mr Collins who is put there to satire proud people and their followers. Another important character to note is Mr Darcy. He is an extremely important character in this novel, a major character, and I think that the fact that he was perceived to have been ‘proud’ at the beginning of the novel by the reader, Elizabeth, and the community of the shire, and our perception, along with Elizabeth, of his character, has changed throughout the novel points to Jane Austen’s criticism of pride and snobbery (insinuating that once pride is done away with (and along with it, prejudice) a character becomes much more favourable. (Note that Lady Catherine does not sway from her proud arrogant position, from beginning to end of the novel, this partly to provide a contrast between the supposed arrogance of Mr Darcy at the beginning of the novel, and his behaviour by the end.)Throughout this novel we are shown the arrogant and haughty dispositions of the upperclass of this society. (We are also shown the exceptions to the rule, namely Mr Bingley and Miss Darcy.) These people are exceedingly proud of their great fortunes and estates and as a result of the emphasis at that time on monetary issues, they are prejudiced (and commit acts of prejudice) towards their financial, and social, “inferiors”. An example of this is the beginning of the novel, the ball, when Mr Darcy snubs Elizabeth Bennet in an act of prejudice. He refuses to dance with her on account of her not being “handsome enough to tempt me.” After being described throughout the chapter as being “the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world” because he would not socialise (“he danced only once with Mrs Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party”) his refusal to dance with Elizabeth Bennet is consistent with the rest of his snobbery and it is logical that he is slighting Elizabeth Bennet because he is excessively proud and does not feel that her handsomeness is worthy of his.
Another example of proud character executing prejudice on an “inferior” candidate is Miss Bingley and Mr Darcy’s conspiracy against Mr Bingley and Miss Bennet’s courtship and inevitable marriage. Together, Mr Darcy and Miss Bingley decide that Mr Bingley and Jane are not suited and therefore should not be married because Jane’s background is not worthy of Mr Bingley’s rich, socially handsome estate. Firstly, Mr. Darcy influences Bingley to leave Netherfield, then Miss Bingley “fails” to tell him of Jane’s prescence in London (although she knows that it would be of great interest to him.) It is because of their pride, and their warp perception of their own, and in this case their brother or friend’s pride, that influences to think they would be “doing the right thing” by keeping Jane and Mr. Bingley apart.
Lady Catherine’s bullyin of Elizabeth (at the end of the novel) in an effort to dissuade her from marrying Darcy is a result of her feeling that her own daughter was entitled to Mr. Darcy more than Elizabeth (who was not worth as much socially or in monetary value.) She argues “are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” This is an act of extreme arrogance stemming from her prejudice against Elizabeth. Lady Catherine, as a result of her pride, believes she is more important than everyone and that everyone else should respect and honour them (in this case Elizabeth) by rejecting a proposal from a man who she loves and who loves her. This obscene assumption on Lady Catherine’s behalf is as a result of her prejudice towards the Bennets because of their lower income, and social status. The prejudice against them for such a reason is rooted in her own arrogant pride.
In the case of the characteristics pride and prejudice (two key themes of the novel) I think that pride comes in for the sharper criticism by Jane Austen. I think this because of her personification of pride (in characters like Lady Catherine) and the fact that the prejudice which does occur in the novel is accompanied by, if not rooted in pride. Through the incidents spoken on above, prejudice has been shown to be a result of arrogant pride and because it is an underlying emotive in the prejudiced actions of the characters I feel it is more sharply criticised.