The society that Jane Austen presents in Pride & Prejudice is concerned with reputation and appearance. First written in 1797 under the title First Impressions, it was later revised and published as Pride and Prejudice in 1813. The theme of judgment runs throughout the novel as prejudging people is a favoutite pastime illustrated by the opening sentence “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The two main characters are both guilty of pride and prejudice and must learn the errors of their ways before they can live “happily ever after”. Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s heroine, believes herself to be a very shrewd judge of character, but her pride allows herself to fall victim of her own set of prejudices. On the other hand, Darcy is proud of his refinement and superiority of social standing. This leads him to a general prejudice for all those below his social status.
Elizabeth’s prejudice stems from her pride when she is offended by Darcy’s refusal to dance with her and this lead her to be prejudiced with him. Her prejudice clouds her clear judgment and foresight and she believes the poor account of Darcy as related by Wickham and blinded by prejudice, she rejects his proposal. In the proposal scene, there is an ironic reversal. Both suffer from the faults of pride and prejudice, but they are also the necessary defects of desirable merits: self-respect and intelligence.
Elizabeth is not the only character who is prejudiced against Darcy. Society similarly make their mind up against Darcy – “His character is decided. He was the proudest and most disagreeable man in the world and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.”
It is at Rosings that their process of self-discovery and educations starts. At Netherfield Park, Elizabeth’s family had seemed vulgar and ill-bred, but at Rosings, Darcy is embarrassed by the vulgarity of his aunt, Lady Catherine and realizes that the refinement of manners is no monopoly of the elite. But, Darcy's prejudice is still continues even when he confesses his love to Elizabeth. At this intimate moment, he begins to talk about the great difference in social background of their families. As the narrator makes it clear, Darcy's proposal did degrade Elizabeth and her social status, showing that Darcy's prejudice against the lower class still remains.
Elizabeth, due to her strong personality and remarks, was the only one who was able to break through Darcy’s pride and alter his perspective back to reality. His lesson is complete when he is totally humbled by Elizabeth’s rejection of his proposal and realizes his misplaced pride in the woman whom he loves. This excessive love for Elizabeth cures Darcy and humbling himself he completely sheds his pride. Elizabeth’s moment of self-awakening comes on receiving of Darcy’s letter. Learning the truth about Wickham, she realizes her own blindness and prejudice in judging Darcy and Wickham on mere first impressions. At Pemberely, she learns about Darcy’s austerity of manner.
Darcy’s role in Lydia Wickham episode proves that he has completely shed his pride, otherwise he would not have assented to get involved in Bennet’s disgrace and have for his brother-in-law, the man, he most despises. Elizabeth’s recognition that, “Darcy was exactly the man who, in disposition and talent, would most suit her”, suggests that her initial prejudice against him is dissolved and the time is now ripe for them to get married.
Lady Catherine is an also an example of pride and prejudice. She has the family and status pride. Mrs. Bennet is proud of her daughters and in her stupidity she is also prejudiced against Darcy. Furthermore Lydia’s thoughtless behaviour prejudices society against the possibility that her sisters will ever get married. This is articulated through the snobbish Mr. Collin’s letter (in Chapter 48): ‘this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all others…”So the theme of pride and prejudice is also reflected through in minor characters too.
The title, Pride and Prejudice aptly points to the theme of the novel. The novel goes beyond a mere statement of first impressions and explores in depth the abstract qualities of pride and prejudice – how they grow and can be overcome.