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Pride and Prejudice | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does the first sentence of Chapter 1 of Pride and Prejudice set up the theme of love versus marriage?

Pride and Prejudice begins, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." This sentence informs readers that the novel will explore the subjects of wealth and marriage, significantly omitting any mention of love. In fact, the line is an example of verbal irony; although a single wealthy man in Regency England typically would want a wife in order to produce a male heir, the greater urgency lies with the families whose unmarried daughters need husbands. The opening establishes the preoccupation of many characters in the novel with making matches based on social class and status.

What does Chapter 1 of Pride and Prejudice reveal about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and why is it important to the novel?

The dialogue in Chapter 1 reveals that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's dysfunctional relationship is the result of their widely different personalities and goals. Mrs. Bennet, whose goal in life is to see her daughters marry well, is inordinately excited by the arrival of a new neighbor; she is practically ready to plan a wedding for one of her daughters. We also learn that she likes to complain about her "nerves." Mr. Bennet, "so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humor, reserve, and caprice," seems to hold not only his wife but most of his family in low regard: "They have none of them much to recommend them. ... They are all silly and ignorant like other girls." To his wife in particular he responds with sarcasm; he mocks her, and she misses the point of his mocking. From the very beginning of the novel, readers are exposed to an example of a less than ideal marriage. This sets the stage for the exploration of differing views of love and marriage that will emerge in the course of the novel. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet also provide readers with a view of the different roles occupied by men and women in Austen's world. The woman has a more serious stake in finding a mate; her future depends on it.

Discuss Austen's use of dialogue, thought, and free indirect discourse to reveal information about Bingley's sisters in Chapter 4 of Pride and Prejudice. What is the effect?

Readers first learn about the Bingley sisters through Jane and Elizabeth's dialogue and thoughts. Jane, who sees good in everyone, declares the Bingley sisters to be "very pleasing" and thinks that Miss Bingley will be a "very charming neighbor." Elizabeth, who is more clear-sighted but quick to judge, listens quietly but thinks the sisters are fine ladies and "not deficient in good humor" but "proud and conceited." Austen then slips into free indirect discourse to explain the background of the Bingley sisters: the amount of their fortunes, their spending habits, their tendency to associate with people of rank, and their habit of thinking "well of themselves and meanly of others." The effect of this mix of narrative techniques is to show readers what each of the major characters, Jane and Elizabeth, think of the other sisters and what they will learn in time about the women.

In the early chapters of Pride and Prejudice, why is Caroline Bingley critical of the Bennet women and how does her attitude relate to the theme of social class?

Caroline finds Jane "a sweet girl," but she finds the younger sisters boring, and she finds Mrs. Bennet to be intolerable. She pronounces Elizabeth proud and impertinent but also perceives her as a rival for Mr. Darcy's affections. In fact, when Darcy confides in Caroline that, after his initial dismissal of her, he is beginning to find Elizabeth attractive, Caroline tries to discredit her by pointing out what a marriage with Elizabeth would mean: Mrs. Bennet as a mother-in-law. It is no surprise that Caroline has negative things to say about Elizabeth, because Caroline herself would benefit from a marriage to Darcy. As a daughter of a man whose wealth came from "trade" (probably manufacturing), she is anxious to increase her status in society by marrying into the landed gentry or nobility.

In Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice, how do performances on the pianoforte reveal the characters and motives of Mary and Elizabeth?

At a social gathering at Sir William Lucas's, Elizabeth is persuaded to play the pianoforte. For her, this performance is a small thing. Her "easy and unaffected" playing entertains the audience. She is confident in her ability but not terribly invested in this occupation. Mary, who plays after Elizabeth, has a completely different approach. She is the serious Bennet sister, considered to be the least attractive. She therefore prides herself on her knowledge and her accomplishments in order to improve her chances at marriage. While she may not be particularly gifted musically, she practices practices diligently to perfect her technique. Desperate to show her worthiness, Mary forces her audience to listen to a long concerto before playing something they can dance to.

In Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth has two brief interactions with Darcy. What is the effect of her behavior?

Elizabeth considers Darcy ill-mannered after his behavior to her at the ball, and at the Lucas's party she feels that he is eying her critically. To avoid becoming afraid of him, she decides to approach him instead, accusing him of eavesdropping. Darcy, however, is watching Elizabeth because he finds her attractive. Later, when he asks her to dance, she turns him down, making it clear that she is not looking for attention from him. Darcy may interpret her behavior as flirting or he may be impressed by her self-assurance. ("Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some complacency.") At any rate, she intrigues him.

The manuscript that would eventually become Pride and Prejudice was called First Impressions. Consider the role of first impressions in Pride and Prejudice.

First impressions play an important role in the plot. Elizabeth's first impression of Darcy, at the time of the first ball, is that he is arrogant and aloof. Her first impression of Wickham, based on his charm and good looks, also misleads her. Darcy initially dismisses Elizabeth because of her lower status and merely "tolerable" appearance. Over the course of the novel, the lead characters revise first impressions. Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth earlier in the novel, though his doubts about her status and family linger. It takes Elizabeth longer to overcome her prejudices against Darcy, partly because she places great stock in her judgment and partly because Darcy's natural reticence makes him harder to truly know. She has also been led by Mr. Wickham, whom she admires, to think poorly of Mr. Darcy. The conflicts and complications that arise based on Elizabeth's first impression of Darcy form the basis of the novel's main plot.

How does the title of Pride and Prejudice suggest themes of the work?

The title Pride and Prejudice suggests the themes of social class and reputation in the novel. Darcy is proud by birth, as a member of the aristocracy, and prone to judge people based on their status in society. Elizabeth is proud of her intellect, particularly her ability to make rational judgments; however, once she forms a judgment about someone's character, it is difficult for her to change it. The two characters' respective pride and prejudices threaten to blind them to their possibility for happiness. Overcoming these flaws requires profound emotional development for both characters. They must conduct thorough self-criticism before they can envision a future together.

Describe the effect of the omniscient narrative perspective in Pride and Prejudice.

The novel is written from the third-person omniscient perspective, which means that an all-knowing narrator tells the story. The narrator focuses most frequently on Elizabeth's point of view, as it is her story and her evolving feelings and reflections that most engage the reader. In Elizabeth's perspective, readers can experience firsthand the mental process by which she makes judgments—sometimes apt, and sometimes flawed. However, the narrator drops in on the consciousness of other characters as well, often to reveal the process through which judgments are made and unmade. For example, the narrator says of Darcy, "But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some other equally mortifying. ... In spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught their easy playfulness." In a novel where much of the plot turns on characters' judgments, showing the internal process of judgment making is the omniscient narrator's forte.

In Chapter 10, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Bingley have a long discussion about Bingley's compliant character. Why is this conversation significant?

This discussion, which involves a detailed dissection of Bingley's character, allows Darcy and Elizabeth to reveal to each other their intelligence. It also reveals that Darcy has a rather stern and uncompromising character and that Elizabeth is not afraid of direct confrontation. Darcy has no patience with people who act without conviction, even if they are friends, as in the hypothetical example of Bingley leaving Netherfield on a whim. Elizabeth argues that Bingley's willingness to unquestioningly delay his departure at a friend's request makes him loyal. For his part, good-natured Bingley continually tries to find humor in the conversation. There is irony in the conversation, too; later, Bingley will leave Netherfield rather suddenly, apparently spurred by his sisters and Darcy. Had his convictions about Jane been stronger—had he been less compliant—a lot of heartbreak might have been avoided.

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