As the title of Austen's Pride and Prejudice announces, pride is an important theme in the story. As Mary pedantically remarks, “human nature is particularly prone to” pride (p. 13). We subsequently see that most characters in the novel struggle with this flaw, which often stops them from seeing situations and people objectively.
The consequences of pride are mostly explored through the main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy’s pride is initially a result of his belief in his superior social status. Seeing himself as important and sophisticated leads to Mr Darcy looking down on anyone whom he believes does not belong to his social circle. This is why he refuses to dance with Elizabeth at the first ball and even talks about her and other women in rather critical terms.
His pride is challenged by the fact that he begins to be attracted by Elizabeth’s wit and physical appearance. While he still thinks he is superior, he falls in love with her and eventually decides to ask her to marry him. However, his proposal is still influenced by class pride – which makes him offend Elizabeth during his proposal, as he carefully outlines all the failings of her relatives.
Elizabeth’s pride mainly derives from her belief in her intelligence and her ability to ‘read people’. Her pride is wounded when Darcy comments on her looks, saying she is only ‘tolerable’, as well as when he talks about her social inferiority as he proposes marriage. Nevertheless, Darcy and Elizabeth are the only characters in the novel who manage to overcome their pride and, as a result, they fall in love and marry.
At one point, Darcy and Elizabeth have a conversation about pride and whether it is a character failing or not, and Darcy, who believes pride may be a good thing, remarks that “where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation” (p. 40), which makes Elizabeth smile to herself. Ironically, Darcy does not have his pride ‘under good regulation’ at this early stage in the novel. That only comes later, once he and Lizzy have learned from one another.
Unlike Lizzy and Darcy, all the other characters who are proud do not overcome this character flaw, possibly because they have no superiority of mind, as Darcy puts it, to see their own faults. Mrs Bennet takes pride in her daughters' beauty and in her position among her rural community. Lady Catherine is arrogant because of her aristocratic status and looks down on everyone, consequently refusing to accept any potential marriage between her nephew and Elizabeth. Mr Collins takes pride in being a clergyman but also in having Lady Catherine as a patron. None of these characters manage to change their proud nature. Mr Bennet, Caroline Bingley, Wickham, and Lydia all have moments of pride in the novel as well.
Prejudice is the second key theme, as seen from the title of the novel. As in the case of pride, most characters develop prejudices against people and situations throughout Austen's novel.
The theme of prejudice is widely explored through Elizabeth and Darcy. Because Elizabeth thinks of herself as witty and intelligent, she falls into the trap of prejudice because she is too quick to form an opinion of others. Her prejudice against Darcy’s belief in his superior social status and arrogance prevent her from seeing the good parts of his character, just as her prejudices make her believe Wickham’s false stories about Darcy, without questioning them.
Darcy also develops prejudices against the Bennet family, as a result of his sense of superiority. Quickly judging them on appearances, he decides for himself that Jane does not love Bingley and that all the Bennets – except Elizabeth and Jane – lack propriety and go...