Valuesand Traits in Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice has contrastingcharacters often highlighted as likeable or less likeable. In fact,the contrast does not end on amiability but extends to thecharacters’ values and traits (Burrows 45). For example, Elizabethpresents a high impression of prejudice while Darcy presents pride.In this regards, while the admirable characters presentindividualism, pride, and prejudice, less likeable characters presentmisplaced values, and snobbery. Admirable characters in the novelinclude Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Bingley while the less admiredcharacters include Lady Catherine DeBourgh, Wickham, Mrs. Bennet, andReverend Collins. Austen presents the admirable characters assensible, courageous, intriguing, witty, respected, fine looking, andgood natured. For example, Elizabeth exclaims to Darcy’spreliminary reaction to marriage, “I felt that you were the lastman in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry,” (Ch.34). In addition, although the characters exhibits flaws of pride andprejudice due to lack of information, they do not exhibit typecastnotions predominant in the society as they realize their inadequaciesand eventually admit and apologize for them. They refuse to kowtow tothe prospects of the society, for instance, Elizabeth refuses amarriage proposal from Collin.
On the other hand, the less admirable characters are selfish, proud,and deceitful as well as exhibit misplaced values and snobbery.However, social class and values set the less admirable charactersapart. For example, while Lady Catherine is controlling and part ofthe upper class, other less likeable people such as Mr. Collins andMrs. Bennet are of the middle class who tries to advance theirstandings by linking their fortunes with the mighty and high. Thecharacters in the novel express their ideas and values through theiractions thus, the admirable characters develop as considerate andthoughtful while the less likeable develop as manipulative andselfish.
The novel depicts social transformation and contradictory hierarchyvalues in the lives of the English refinement. For example, in theopening chapters of the novel, Elizabeth accuses Darcy of pride,arrogance, conceit, and egotistic disdain for others while Darcy’sconscious personal reaction exemplifies the shared subliminalresponse of the upper class. Although the novel does not posits anegalitarian notion or support a levelling of social class, itcondemns an over-prominence on class, particularly in terms ofjudging one’s values and traits. In this regards, Austen, depictsthe hierarchy of values and the change of social order throughout thenovel (Burrows 51). As suggested, values and strong character traitsdepicted by admirable characters subvert the old order grounded ontitle, wealth, and the protection of social class. Marriagedestabilizes the old order, for example, the marriage of Mr. Bennetand Mrs. Bennet and the relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth. Amiablecharacters manage to overcome the barriers of wealth and social classwhile the less likeable are unable to deal with such barriers. Forinstance, Lady Catherine tells Elizabeth, “You refuse to obey theclams of duty, honor, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin himin the opinion of all his friends and make him the contempt of theworld.” In response, Elizabeth retorts, “I am also the daughterof a gentleman,” (Ch. 56). This shows the falling socialstratification in the novel.
By using formed personalities such as Elizabeth, Austen manages toreveal the new hierarchy and values as well as satisfy the readers’sense of justice. In fact, the novel advances as an evolutionarymovement with likeable characters refusing to bow down to the oldorder of social stratification. For example, Darcy makes friends withpeople of the middle class and even invites them to his house(Burrows 56). Surprisingly, the less likeable Lady Catherine does notbuy into Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship, but she makes a tripto Longbourn to speak to Elizabeth, a reflection of the changingsocial dynamics. In the past, she would have summoned Elizabeth toRosings Park thus, Austen manages to satisfy the readers’ sense ofjustice by endearing the likeable characters as well as advancing asense of respect for them by the less likeable characters.
Austen, Jane. Pride and prejudice. Broadview Press, 2001.
Burrows, J. F. "A Measure of Excellence: Modes of Comparison inPride and Prejudice." Sydney Studies in English 5(2008).