“It their mother with one purpose in life:

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged,
that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Austen
43) So begins Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners —one of the most popular
novels of all time—that features splendidly civilized sparring between the
proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their
spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. This
tale of love and values unfolds in the class-conscious England of the late 18th
century. The five Bennet sisters – including strong-willed Elizabeth – have been
raised by their mother with one purpose in life: finding a husband. Life is
uneventful until the arrival in the neighbourhood of the rich gentleman Mr.
Bingley, who rents a large house so he can spend the summer in the country. Mr.
Bingley brings with him his sister and the dashing, but proud Mr. Darcy. Love
is soon in the air for one of the Bennet sisters, while another may have jumped
to a hasty prejudgment. For the Bennet sisters many trials and tribulations
stand between them and their happiness, including class, gossip and scandal.
The theme of altruistic love can be effectively analyzed through an examination
of the characters’ preconceptions, self-esteem and social relationships.

The protagonist of the novel, and the
second daughter of the Bennet family, Elizabeth Bennett is the most intelligent
and sensible of the five sisters. She is well read and quick-witted, with a
tongue that occasionally proves too sharp for her own good. “She is tolerable;
but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give
consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better
return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with
me.” (53) These words describe Mr. Darcy’s reaction at the Meryton ball to Mr. Bingley’s
suggestion that he dance with Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy, who sees the people of
Meryton as his social inferiors, haughtily refuses to condescend to dancing
with someone ‘not handsome enough’ for him. Moreover, he does so within range
of Elizabeth, thereby establishing a reputation among the entire community for
pride and bad manners. His sense of social superiority, artfully exposed in
this passing comment, later proves his chief difficulty in admitting his love
for Elizabeth. The rudeness with which Darcy treats Elizabeth creates a
negative impression of him in her mind. Her initial prejudice towards Mr. Darcy
leads to a misconception that lingers for nearly half of the novel, until the
underlying nobility of his character is gradually revealed to her. Overcoming
the barriers of her preconceptions, Elizabeth finds her true love in Mr. Darcy
and proves that her endearment towards Mr. Darcy is superior then her
impressions towards him.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley
exhibits all the good and bad qualities of an ideal English aristocrat. Though Mr.
Darcy is intelligent and honest, his excess of pride causes him to look down on
his social inferiors. Intelligent and forthright, he too has a tendency to
judge too hastily and harshly, and his high birth and wealth make him overly
proud and overly conscious of his social status. “In vain have I struggled. It
will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you
how ardently I admire and love you.” (448) Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth demonstrates
how his feelings toward her transformed since his earlier dismissal of her as
“not handsome enough.” While Elizabeth rejects his proposal, this event marks
the turning point in the novel. Before Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth to marry him,
she feels only contempt for him; afterward, she begins to see him in a new
light, as certain incidents help illustrate the essential goodness of his
character. Mr. Darcy demonstrates his continued devotion to Elizabeth, in spite
of his distaste for her low connections, when he rescues Lydia and the entire
Bennet family from disgrace, and when he goes against the wishes of his haughty
aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, by continuing to pursue Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy
proves himself worthy of Elizabeth, and she ends up repenting her earlier,
overly harsh judgment of him. Thus, over the course of the novel, Mr. Darcy
tempers his class-consciousness and learns to admire and love Elizabeth.

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While Elizabeth is guilty of prejudice and
Darcy of pride, Jane Austen poses countless smaller obstacles to the
realization of the love between them, including Lady Catherine’s attempt to
control her nephew, Miss Bingley’s snobbery, Mrs. Bennet’s lunacy, and
Wickham’s deceit. In each case, anxieties about social connections, or the
desire for better social connections, interfere with the workings of love. Mr.
Bingley’s subtle sister Miss Bingley sets her ire on Elizabeth Bennet, learning
about Mr. Darcy’s interest in her. Having her designs on him, Miss Bingley
keeps reminding Mr. Darcy of the relations he would have if he marries
Elizabeth, the daughter of an unmannerly and deplorable Mrs. Bennet. Mrs.
Bennet, a character with silly, emotional, and irrational behavior, does more
to harm her daughters’ chances at finding husbands than it does to help. She
encourages Kitty and Lydia’s bad behavior and her attempts to push Elizabeth
into an unwanted marriage with Mr. Collins show her to be insensible of her
children’s aversion to a loveless marriage. Lydia’s immature decision of
marrying Wickham, stems from Mrs. Bennet’s lack of parental supervision. Her
marriage to Wickham represents a relationship that is based on physical
gratification. Lydia does not think, she simply acts upon her impulses, and the
cost of that impulsiveness, is paid by Mr. Darcy. Among all of these familial
relationships, a rich, bossy noblewoman; Mr. Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de
Borough epitomizes class snobbery, especially in her attempts to order the
middle-class Elizabeth away from her well-bred nephew. Her visit to Longbourn to
dissuade Elizabeth from accepting Darcy reaches a point almost of farce in its
blustering foolishness. In her encounter with Elizabeth she fails to carry her
purpose, and receives Elizabeth’s rational and forceful refusal to be bullied
and dominated. It is a neat and ironic twist in the plot that a repetition of
this kind of injudicious interference with Darcy gives him the courage to propose
Elizabeth again.

was much too embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion
added, “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what
they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are
unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”
Elizabeth feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his
situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very
fluently, gave him to understand, that her sentiments had undergone so material
a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with
gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances.” (792)

Pride and prejudice
are defeated at last, and Elizabeth’s acceptance to the proposal marks the
undefeated force of the altruistic love blossomed between her and Mr. Darcy.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s realization of a
mutual and tender love seems to imply that Austen views love as something
independent of these social forces, as something that can be captured if only
an individual is able to escape the warping effects of hierarchical society.
Austen does sound some more realist notes about love, using the character of
Charlotte Lucas, who marries the buffoon Mr. Collins for his money, to
demonstrate that the heart does not always dictate marriage. Yet with her
central characters, Austen suggests that true love is a force separate from
society and one that can conquer even the most difficult of circumstances.
Thus, the central theme of the novel Pride and Prejudice is the consistent
search of true love despite every obstacle that comes our way. Whether it be a
conflict with oneself or with society, none of it can overpower true love. Pride and Prejudice is a witty play of
manners, familial expectations, self-esteems and preconceptions among which
blossoms a flower of altruistic love.

Categories: Comedy


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