Literary Devices in “Pride and Prejudice”

The novel Pride and Prejudice is a satirical tale about courtship in 19th century England that ends in the fulfillment of this proverb. The protagonist of the novel, Elizabeth, and the antagonist of the novel, Mr. Darcy, are unlike in multiple ways, and, although faces with many obstacle and challenges, find that they love each other and that their love is enough to surpass any hindrance seen in the novel.

Before the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy has a chance to start, first impressions almost completely destroy obstacle any future they would have together. Elizabeth’s first impression of Darcy is a completely negative one, due to his judgmental description of her upon first seeing her at the ball; “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” (7) Mr. Bingley attempts to make Darcy dance, but Darcy replies that “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room (7).” In this statement he is referring to Elizabeth’s sister, Jane. The first impression of Elizabeth, and the reader, is that Darcy is arrogant and headstrong. Before these events transpired Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennett, pointed out Darcy as a candidate for Elizabeth to marry. Elizabeth views Darcy immediately, as shown by this passage, “… his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year.”(6) Elizabeth will hear none of it, considering the spiteful comment she overheard Darcy making about her previously. This arctic first encounter between Elizabeth and Darcy leaves the reader more than doubtful of anything sparking between the two in the future.

In Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bingley presents a unique and almost insurmountable challenge to the union of Darcy and Elizabeth. Because of her close relationship with Mr. Darcy, she is able to affect his thoughts of Elizabeth quite odisiously. She uses character assassination and libel to get what she wants. Miss Bingley views her status as a member of the patrician class as divine right, and she looks down on anyone less fortunate that herself. She contrasts almost perfectly with Mr. Bingley, who is instantly likeable for his ability to be polite and kind to all he meets. Miss Bingley does not stop at character assassination, she continues to attack Elizabeth Bennett in all fashions, “For my own part,” Miss Bingley rejoined, “I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character; there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive any thing extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion which is intolerable.” (258-259) She sees the Bennetts as inferior due to their social standing as well as Mrs. Bennett’s lack of intelligence. This stated reason is quite ironic, given the almost pathetically obtuse attempts of Miss Bingley to win Darcy’s affection. Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenge Miss Bingley creates for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, their affection for each other is more than sufficient enough to outweigh an old woman’s prejudices.

A major obstacle in the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy was Mr. Wickham, who becomes the object of Elizabeth’s affections and she hopes to marry him. He is a very popular man in the English bourgeois, and is described as a “happy man towards whom almost every female eye turned (74).” He appears in town as a product of his regiment taking up headquarters in the town. Although Wickham can potentially marry any woman he wants, he immediately takes a liking to Elizabeth. Upon first meeting each other, Elizabeth finds that there is an extreme amount of tension between Wickham and Darcy. Wickham tells her that the reason for the coldness is that Darcy and he have a history together. He tells Elizabeth that Wickham was the steward for Darcy’s father. Wickham wanted to join the clergy, and Darcy’s father encouraged him to do so. Upon Darcy’s father’s death, so Wickham said, Darcy took away the money from Wickham and forced him to join the military. He states that the inheritance willed him by Mr. Darcy’s father was not given to him. He says “A man of honor could not have doubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it—or treat it as a merely conditional recommendation, and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it by extravagance, imprudence, in short, anything, or nothing.” (77). Her prejudice towards Darcy colors her lens and she listens to Wickham’s story with not a shade of disbelief. She repeats what she has heard to her sister, Jane, and the way she articulates her observations truly shows how different Elizabeth was than the other girls of her age at the time; “They have both been deceived; I dare say…Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the cause or circumstance which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side.” (82-83) She is not prone to mindless gossip like others, and instead of spinning and interesting tale for her sister, approaches the situation intelligently and thoughtfully. After talking to Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth goes into town, where she runs into Mr. Darcy, who gives her a letter explaining the true nature of his relationship with Mr. Wickham. This letter marks the point in the novel where Elizabeth begins to like Darcy. Darcy tells her “Of what he has particularly accused me of I am ignorant; but of the truth of what I shall relate I can summon more than one witness of undoubted veracity… but I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging himself on me was a strong inducement.” (188-191). Darcy tells the real reason for Wickham’s disinheritance, Wickham engaged in problematic relations with Darcy’s sister. This marks the beginning of the constructive relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth.

The wealth of Mr. Darcy proves to be somewhat of a divider between Darcy and Elizabeth. Darcy is known to have, “…having ten thousand a year, (6)”. Elizabeth, in sharp contrast, does not come from a rich family nor will she inherit any of Mr. Bennett’s fortune, because “Mr. Bennett’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation” (18) At the time, the vast difference in family wealth would prove to be a definite stopper on any sort of plan for Elizabeth to be set up with Mr. Darcy for marriage. Darcy seems to be caught up in the ideas of the time; Austen describes him as being very aware of Elizabeth’s inferiorities and flaws. This distinction is mentioned again Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth when he writes about the failed relationship between his friend Bingley, and Jane, writing “The situation of your mother’s family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly, betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father.” (134) This difference in social class proves to be a reason for why Darcy seemed to try to purposely self-destruct his relationship, as well as a perfect example of the influence English social ideals have on the lives of England’s high society.

The final obstacle towards the relationship of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is the aunt of Mr. Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady de Bourgh is optimistic that Darcy will marry her daughter, “Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter” (56, 335). Before Elizabeth is even aware of Mr. Darcy’s impending proposal to her, Lady de Bourgh catches wind of the plans and immediately travels to go speak with Elizabeth. Lady de Bourgh says to Elizabeth; “I was told, that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennett, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood; though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you.” (56, 334) As if to convince Elizabeth of the prenatal bond between Mr. Darcy and her niece, Lady de Bourgh explains to Elizabeth of the family history behind this arranged marriage. “The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favorite wish of his mother, as well as of hers. While in their cradles, we planned the union:” (56, 335-336) Elizabeth, however, decides to choose her own happiness over that of Lady de Bourgh and replies; “I’m marrying your nephew,” (56, 337). This final step Elizabeth takes proves to overcome the obstruction in the relationship of Elizabeth and Darcy. Again, this is another example of the customs of the time with the interfamily arranged marriages based on social standing and wealth.

Jane Austen does an excellent job of writing a novel that not only criticizes social customs and structures, but at the same time spins a beautiful tale of finding love in the most unexpected of places.