The title of the novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, can
be interpreted as a theme running through the novel. Pride, observed
Mary, . . . is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have
ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed, that human
nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us
who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some
quality or another, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different
things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be
proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of
ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. Pride
and/or vanity is exhibited in different forms by each character.
Ms. Austen was trying to send the message that an excess of pride or
vanity is indeed a failing. Those characters who can recognize their
flaw emerge as the true heroes of the story.
In many minor characters of the novel, pride is a common
characteristic. Mrs. Bennet, for instance, is extremely proud when it
comes to her daughters marriages of mercenary advantage. She is so
concerned that her neighbors have a high opinion of her that her own
vanity will not even allow her to think of her daughters love and
happiness. This is best shown with the case of Elizabeth Bennet s
proposed marriage to the esteemed Mr. Collins, a man she did not love.
Mrs. Bennet was so upset when her daughter refused Mr. Collins offer
that she would not speak to her for passing up such an opportunity.
We can see an example of pride for imaginary qualities in Mary
Bennet who was herself the speaker of this passage. To the
embarrassment of her family, Mary would take every chance she could to
put on a show whenever in a public situation. Although she was not
talented in any of the activities she decided to undertake, her high
opinion of herself and her desire to esteem herself in the eyes of
others enabled her to display her supposed talents.
Mr. Collins possesses a definite sense of vanity. He is in no
way concerned about his own opinion of his character, for as we
see his character leaves much to be desired. All he cares about is
what others think of him. He always needs the approval of his present
company. When he gives Elizabeth the grand tour of his
nothing-spectacular home, he is looking for her approval of his
position and possessions. It is not important to Mr. Collins for
people to like him as a person, they just had better be impressed
his status in life and his connections.
Mr. Darcy, as one of the main characters, is for the better part
of the novel a focus of the theme of pride. His pride is very obvious.
It is a part of his nature and is seen in his mannerisms and in his
speech. Darcy has such a high opinion of himself that he does not care
what others think of him or his prideful actions. He believes that he
is the best in every way possible and finds that his standing in
society gives him the right to be critical of those not as perfect as
Elizabeth Bennet, the other main character of the novel, is just
as guilty of being proud as any of the other characters in the novel.
She prides herself on being unprejudiced and rational in the judgement
of others. Yet, this is an imaginary quality as she learns that her
preconceived notions of both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham turn out to be
false. She is also very proud when Darcy confronts her about her
family and connections. Although Darcy s accusations of the
unsophistication of certain of her family members are true, Elizabeth
is too proud to listen and accept the truth. Instead, she becomes so
angered with Darcy that it effects her entire relationship with him.
Both Darcy and Elizabeth come to recognize their pride as a flaw
in their respective characters. Darcy realizes that he must check his
pride in order to be seen in a good light by others. Elizabeth, the
object of his affections, is so turned off by his prideful ways that a
touch of vanity enables him to change himself for her. Elizabeth,
while observing the transformations of Darcy, realizes that she, too,
has been guilty of too much pride. She sees that she was indeed
prejudiced and that she must come to terms with the failings of her
family. Darcy and Elizabeth are able to overcome their pride which
enables them to live happily ever after.