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Free Study Guide: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Free BookNotes

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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: ONLINE PLOT ANALYSIS

OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth is a spontaneous, high-spirited, vivacious, witty, and warm young lady. She is also a bright, complex, and intriguing individual who is realistic about life. Unlike her sister Jane, she is not ready to believe that everyone is flawless. She knows the ‘impropriety’ of her father and is aware that it springs from the unhappiness of his life with his wife. She also perceives the fickleness of her mother’s temper and her crass social behavior. Even to the point of being saucy and blunt at times, Elizabeth is not afraid to speak her mind.

Throughout the novel, Elizabeth’s encounters with Darcy are a battle of adult minds. Elizabeth’s speeches, crackling with irony, filled with pep, and displaying vibrant humor, exert a magnetic pull on Darcy. He recognizes that she is a woman endowed with sense and sensibility, radically different from most young females that he knows. He is particularly impressed with her poise; she is not intimidated by the upper class or overawed by the arrogant Darcy.

Elizabeth’s main flaw is an exaggerated prejudice. Her first negative impression of Darcy at the Netherfield ball, Wickham’s tall story about him, and Darcy’s influencing Bingley against Jane fuel her prejudice. She spends most of the novel truly disliking her future husband. When Darcy proposes to her the first time, she does not even give the offer serious thought before turning the man down. Fortunately, Darcy is determined and does not give up on Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is an honest individual, both to others and to herself. Once she realizes the truth about Darcy, she admits her incorrect prejudice against him and regrets her previous rejection of him. In fact, she even admits to herself that she is in love with Darcy, but she is realistic enough to think that she no longer stands a chance with him. When she learns that Darcy has saved Lydia from disgrace, she swallows her remaining pride and states her appreciation to Darcy. His response is to ask for her hand in marriage once again. This time, a much wiser Elizabeth eagerly accepts.

In the novel, Elizabeth Bennet proves that she is a woman both particular to her age and society and yet different from it. Like her mother, Elizabeth is sometimes prone to outspoken speeches and impulsive actions; yet, she never disregards the propriety which the age insisted upon for women. Her keen intelligence, her good sense, and her unconventional charm make Elizabeth an unforgettable character.

Fitzwilliam Darcy

While Elizabeth is the symbol of prejudice in the novel, Darcy embodies the element of pride, which is clearly established in him from the very beginning of the book. His arrogant ways make him unpopular and misunderstood, even though he is envied for his good looks and wealth. Elizabeth takes a particular disliking to him for his haughty rudeness when he initially says that he is not interested in her at the ball. When she learns that he has advised Bingley not to pursue a relationship with Jane, she is further incensed at the man. It is not surprising, therefore, that when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, he is turned down, especially since his offer was made in a haughty and condescending manner. Elizabeth’s refusal jolts his pride and sets him on a course of self realization.

When Elizabeth visits Pemberley, she discovers a different side of Darcy. She is impressed with the taste and refinement of his home. He is obviously a cultured and intelligent man. From the housekeeper, she also learns that he is a generous landlord, a kind master, and a devoted brother. Later in the novel, it is revealed that he is the only son of aristocratic parents and that at a very early age he had to take up family responsibilities which made him independent and conceited.

Darcy’s love for Elizabeth is clearly a conflict for him between head and heart. He thinks he should not love her because of her lower social position and her crass family; but his heart is attracted to her beauty, her sensibility, her independence, and her vivacity. When he proposes to her the first time, he is sure that she will accept. Because of her rejection, Darcy undergoes a metamorphosis from an insolvent aristocrat to a kind, down-to-earth soul. Out of his love for Elizabeth, he silently rescues Lydia by "buying" her marriage to Wickham. Later, he is even kind and courteous to her parents. In summary, Darcy becomes the perfect picture of a thoroughbred gentleman and the ideal husband for Elizabeth.


Mr. Bennet

Although Mr. Bennet is basically a sensible man, he behaves strangely because of his disillusionment with his wife. Living with Mrs. Bennet has made him somewhat bitter and cynical. Trapped in a bad marriage, he makes life endurable for himself by assuming a pose of an ironic passive spectator of life, who has long ago abdicated his roles as a husband and a father. Once in awhile, he comes out of his ivory tower to amuse himself by pestering his foolish wife or making callous remarks about his daughters. He reality, he is quite fond of his children, particularly Elizabeth, who he finds sensible and witty.

Throughout the novel, Mr. Bennet proves he is an insensitive father. His wit, though enlivening, is disturbing because of its cynicism; unfortunately, it is often turned on his daughters. When Jane is jilted in love, he speaks of it in a very light manner, saying it is an unavoidable occurrence, which distresses Jane even more. He is not concerned about Lydia’s inappropriate behavior and allows her to go off to Brighton, in spite of Elizabeth’s warnings to him; his negligence on this account leads to Lydia’s elopement. This incident shocks him out of his complacency, and for once he seems genuinely worried about one of his children. He even goes to London to search for his daughter; unfortunately, he soon allows Mr. Gardiner to replace him. When Elizabeth announces her engagement to Darcy, Mr. Bennet seems genuinely concerned, for he still believes Darcy to be arrogant and rude; he does not want his daughter to enter into a miserable marriage like his own. When he learns of Darcy’s goodness and Elizabeth’s true love for him, Mr. Bennet blesses the union. At the end of the novel, however, he is not a greatly changed man; he is still in his ivory tower, trying to escape the inanity of his wife.

Mrs. Bennet

Mrs. Bennet is described by the author as "a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper." In her youth, her beauty won her a husband, but she could not sustain Mr. Bennet’s interest for long because of her crude behavior. As the novel opens, she has one purpose in life - to find acceptable husbands for her oldest three daughters.

Mrs. Bennet is loud and gauche as is illustrated in her behavior at Netherfield. Whenever she opens her mouth, she seems to make a fool of herself. Her vulgar social behavior becomes a major deterrent for Bingley and Darcy in the pursuit of her daughters. In addition to her crass behavior, Mrs. Bennet is not very intelligent or sensible. She is given to hasty judgments and fluctuating opinions. Throughout the book, her opinions of people swing between abhorrence and admiration, as seen in her changing feelings for Mr. Collins, Wickham, Bingley, and Darcy. Of course, much of how she judges them is based on whether or not she believes they will become her sons-in-law.

Like her husband, Mrs. Bennet fails miserably in her role as a parent. She fails to understand the sensibilities of Jane and Elizabeth, and often embarrasses the two girls with her indiscreet behavior and hurtful remarks. She ridicules Jane for her love for Bingley and wants Elizabeth to marry the horrid Mr. Collins. Her permissiveness with Lydia leads to her living with Wickham outside of marriage. Mrs. Bennet’s reaction to the elopement is to go into hysterics and hide herself in her room. She is incapable of holding the family together in a moment of crisis; in fact, she just makes matters worse.

In the end, Mrs. Bennet gets exactly what she has desired; her three eldest daughters are married. She, however, remains the same gawking, vulgar and foolish woman.

Jane Bennet

Jane is the beautiful, charming, and subdued sister of Elizabeth. In fact, she is so gentle and kind that she genuinely and naively believes that everyone else in the world is the same. Elizabeth even tells her that "you never see a fault in anybody. All the world is good and agreeable in your eyes. I have never heard you speak ill of any human being." Her attraction for Bingley is instant, for she sees him as a simple, unassuming man and a perfect mate. She is greatly disappointed when Bingley seems to lose interest in her, but she patiently waits for him. At the end of the novel, the good Jane is rewarded for her patient endurance when Bingley proposes to her.

Bingley

A promising young man endowed with wealth and social ease, Bingley is the owner of Netherfield. Unlike Darcy, he is very popular with everyone because he is gentle, kind, and amiable, and his manners are socially pleasing. His love for Jane is instant and pure; unfortunately, he is at first discouraged from pursuing a relationship with her.

At times, Bingley seems a bit weak, lacking self-confidence. He lets himself be manipulated by his friends and his sisters. Darcy acts like an adviser, philosopher, and guide to him, leading him away from his attraction to Jane. Unfortunately, Bingley always places a great premium on Darcy’s sense of judgement and follows his advice, almost without questions. On the whole, Bingley is a very simple, uncomplicated character. Elizabeth Bennet correctly depicts him as a man who is ‘very easy to understand’.


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