The events which occur in novels are all significant as they help us to understand the characters better through their actions and thoughts as well as giving a greater understanding of the ideas the author wants to portray. Ideas in novels are important as they relate to the readers and their own behaviours helping them to think about their own values and society. In one of the first modern novelist, Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, she explores the ideas of pride and prejudice through the important events of the assembly and Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s visit to Longbourn.
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The assembly is the first important event where the themes of pride and prejudice are introduced to the readers. Elizabeth’s instant attraction to Mr Darcy after hearing that he earns ten thousand pounds a year reveals her prejudice for him as she considers him to be “much handsomer than Mr Bingley”, Darcy’s good friend who is also from the upper class. We learn from this incident that people during the Regency Period judged heavily on others on their wealth. They considered wealthy people to be handsome which is very different to how we perceive the term ‘handsome’ today. Elizabeth’s initial prejudice helps us to understand why Darcy refuses to dance with anyone at the ball, not even Elizabeth who is considered to be one of the prettiest girls in town. He believes “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt [him]”. His remark shows how he is instantly prejudiced against her and the other girls because of their lower social status. Austen portrays her society’s prejudice of social classes to be unjust raising the question on whether it is right to treat people of different social classes differently.
Another main idea portrayed during the assembly is pride. Darcy’s rejection to dance is due to being overly proud of his high social standings. He belittles the people from a lower ranking thinking it would be “punishment for [him]” to be seen dancing with them. The harsh word “punishment” suggests that for a person from the upper class to have interest in someone from a lower social class was socially unacceptable. His attitude suggests to the people at the assembly that he is “the proudest and most disagreeable man in the world”. Through this event we can still see that the impression of rich people today is still similar as it was during the Regency Period because we still associate them with the negative traits of being snobby and rude but also making others feel inferior in their presence. Elizabeth on the other hand who delights herself “in anything ridiculous” told Darcy’s comment about her to her friends “with great spirit”. Although she is initially hurt by his rude comment, she does not take it to heart which shows us she too is proud of her social standing and has a high self-esteem. We admire Elizabeth’s character because she teaches us that we should not take one person’s comment too personally and it is also the key to staying happy. Through this important event, Austen conveys the message that being modestly proud of yourself is a respectable trait we should all have and that too much pride can ruin your self-image to others.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s visit to Longbourn is another important event which highlights the main idea of the prejudice of the upper class against people of lower social status. She deliberately traveled a fair distance to prevent Elizabeth from marrying Darcy, her nephew and declares that it would be “universally contradicted”. Her comment is a prime example of how the upper class during the Regency Period were greatly prejudice against people “of inferior birth” who to them they are of “no importance in the world”. Anyone below Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s social class is considered inferior and for her to have any connections to anyone inferior would “pollute” her family, potentially wrecking their pride, reputation, bringing them shame and contempt. Therefore she could not allow such a marriage to take place. We are able to see that the purpose of marriage then was to maintain their family’s status rather than for love. Behind Lady Catherine’s visit to Longbourn, we notice that the significant idea of prejudice against lower social classes was engraved in the society. Her actions reflected what was socially expected from her class showing the power of society’s influence our own morals.
The idea of pride is also portrayed in this event through Lady Catherine’s actions. She visits Longbourn unannounced in the early hours of the morning making “no reply to Elizabeth’s salutation” or anyone else in the family but instead criticizes their home. Normally this behaviour would be seen as particularly offensive however it is because of Lady Catherine’s title of being a ‘Lady’ which made her superior enough to be excused from being haughty. From previous chapters, we can see that Lady Catherine takes an interest in commanding the personal affairs of the Collins’ and this behaviour is again emphasized as she believes she is able to control Elizabeth’s affairs too by asking her to disagree with ever marrying Darcy. Her rude visit is overlooked by Mrs Bennet and she even “with great civility, begged her ladyship to take some refreshments”. This shows us that most people are afraid to challenge someone of a higher status. Therefore we understand why Lady Catherine is shocked to be told by Elizabeth that “[she] is not entitled to know [her concerns]” and have the conversation end with Elizabeth walking away from her. From Lady Catherine’s visit, we form a greater understanding of the idea of pride. The amount of pride we have depends on the way we are brought up and treated in society. Her presentation of Lady Catherine challenges us to think about our ideas and values and whether they are universally acceptable or will change over generations just like how the attitude towards the lower social classes today have changed.
Through her development and exploration of the important events of the assembly and Lady Catherine’s visit, pride and prejudice can be seen as the main ideas behind this classic novel. Austen’s demonstrates through the characters of Elizabeth, Darcy and Lady Catherine in these events that our pride and prejudice is influenced by the society we live in. She shows us that it is our upbringing and surrounding that impact our manners and principals. From the middle-upper class herself, Austen’s negative portrayal of the Darcy and Lady Catherine’s vanity and judgments gives us her personal insight on the upper class’ society. Pride and Prejudice explains to us that despite the uniqueness of everyone’s actions and thoughts, most of us act the way that is seen as ‘right’ by society.
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