In the novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, women of 19th century England must marry into a well fortuned family by finding a “suitable” partner. However, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself questioning certain views of society. When Mr. Bingley, a young wealthy gentleman moves into the town along with the equally wealthy and respectable Mr. Darcy, the Bennet girls are given a chance to seize higher status. The society in this story is very much organized by where a person falls in the social ladder and this is dictated by how much property he/she owns.
As a major theme in the novel, class difference serves as a barrier that creates a fair distance between some of the characters and determines the personality of each character also. Differences in social class is what keep couples like Elizabeth and Darcy or Jane and Bingley apart for much of the novel. Elizabeth finds most of the upper class snobby and filled with pride. Although Mr. Darcy is a propertied gentleman, Elizabeth finds him unpleasant because of his arrogance and lack of manners.
In return, Darcy views Elizabeth with disapproval because of her family’s social status and background. “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. ” (Chap. 3) This statement made by Darcy illustrates his poor opinion of those who are of lower class than him. Elizabeth overhears this negative statement about her, and Darcy’s pride because of his social status and disdain he holds for people in lower classes initially leads to Elizabeth’s detest.
They both treat each other with contempt and neither of them try to understand the other. This is one of the reasons why when told by Wickham that he had been cheated of some inheritance by Darcy, Elizabeth assumes that Darcy is a culprit, and an all around dishonest person. Miss Bingley also views Elizabeth as an unworthy partner for Darcy and tries her best to keep them apart. Although she is mostly motivated to push Elizabeth away because of her jealousy, this is another example of class distancing people and disrupting potential relationships.
Darcy even tries to break apart the connection between Jane and Bingley, because he didn’t see Jane as a suitable partner for Bingley, because of her social status. Even though Bingley surely seems to favour Jane and plans on marrying her, Darcy, as his good friend believes that he must protect Bingley from making a bad decision. Class at this time was a very important thing to consider wen finding a compatible suitor. Ironically though, Darcy starts falling in love Elizabeth, despite her class. He then tries fighting his feelings for Elizabeth because he himself knows that loving someone of lower status was something that he thought was Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.
To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. (Chap. 6) Through major characterization, Austen brings about the effect social position can have on character. One major example in this is Ms. Bingley- a snobby, vain lady who also bears excessive disdain for the middle and lower classes. “When dinner was over, she [Elizabeth] returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no stile, no taste, no beauty. ” (Vol. 1 Chap. 8) Miss Bingley’s ill manners towards Elizabeth is a sign of her disrespect towards the people of lower status and she thus finds them unworthy of proper etiquette.
Despite the fact that higher class individuals were expected to be polite, Miss Bingley shows no civility towards people of unequal birth, and attacks Elizabeth with critical comments. “ They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. ” (Vol. 4 Chap. 11) Even Elizabeth judges Miss Bingley, lacking manners and character although she is socially superior.