Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s most famous novel, is filled with many different minor characters. Some seem superfluous, but others bring life to certain scenes and help to advance the plot. Certain plot-lines in the story actually revolve around minor characters and the plot could not truly be complete without their influence.
Charlotte Lucas is the intimate friend of the heroine Elizabeth. Jane Austen uses Charlotte to express one important aspect of the central theme of the novel, namely marriage. Charlotte gets married to Collins to escape poverty. This is a completely unromantic attitude to one of the most important decisions in one's life. In Ch. 6 Charlotte tells Elizabeth, "happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance." Towards the end of the chapter she tells Elizabeth, "I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home."
Austen’s characters typically reveal their inner selves through their manners. Some examples of negative manifestations of character include Lydia and Kitty Bennet. They exhibit an extreme irreverence and total lack of societal understanding; from their shameless soldier-chasing to Lydia’s scandalous affair with Wickham, these two exemplify social behaviours to be avoided. Emotional and immature, Lydia is the Bennet daughter who most takes after her mother. Lydia's misbehavior stems from a lack of parental supervision. Her marriage to Wickham represents a relationship that is based on physical gratification. Lydia does not think, she simply acts upon her impulses, and that impulsiveness, combined with negligent parents, leads to her near ruin.
Lady Catherine is the aunt of Darcy and the patroness of Collins. Throughout the novel Jane Austen attacks the snobbery of the aristocratic class through her. She serves as a foil to Elizabeth's character. Elizabeth's confrontations with Lady Catherine serve to highlight her independence, boldness and assertivenes, for instance whereas all the others were completely overawed by Lady Catherine and her stately home Elizabeth remains completely unfazed: "the mere stateliness of money and rank, she thought she could witness without trepidation."
Most significantly Lady Catherine serves as a catalyst to speed up second proposal to Elizabeth. Elizabeth boldly tells her "you may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer" and hints to her that she will accept Darcy if he proposes the second time,"…and if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?" And when Lady Catherine asks her to promise not to get married to him, Elizabeth remarks,"I will make no promise of the kind."
Austen satirizes the kind of class-consciousness represented by Lady Catherine, particularly in the character of Mr. Collins, who spends most of his time toadying her, his upper-class patron. Though Mr. Collins offers an extreme example, he is not the only one to hold such views. His conception of the importance of class is shared, among others, by early Mr. Darcy, who believes in the dignity of his lineage; Miss Bingley, who dislikes anyone not as socially accepted as she is; and Wickham, who will do anything he can to get enough money to raise himself into a higher station. Mr. Collins’s views are merely the most extreme and obvious. The satire directed at Mr. Collins is therefore also more subtly directed at the entire social hierarchy and the conception of all those within it at its correctness, in complete disregard of other, more worthy virtues. Elizabeth’s refusal to marry the “pompous” and “arrogant” Mr. Collins reveals Austen’s thoughts on marriage and suggests that she acknowledged the fact that love was more important in marriage than wealth. Through the Darcy-Elizabeth and Bingley-Jane marriages, Austen shows the power of love and happiness to overcome class boundaries and prejudices, thereby implying that such prejudices are hollow, unfeeling, and unproductive.
The minor characters in Pride and Prejudice are very important because of the tone and humor they add to the novel, but most importantly, the minor characters give insight to the main characters, as well as the thematic concerns of Austen.