Pride and Prejudice Themes – Meaning and Main Ideas

Main Theme of Pride and Prejudice

The novel takes place in England either in the late 1700s or early 1800s based on the assumption that the story’s events happen during the Napoleonic Wars (the story has several characters who are soldiers and have to report to military duty). The story takes the characters between various locations within England but since the progression of the story’s action is heavily dependent on dialogue, there’s never much in the way of geographic specific other than county/town names.

The novel has various motifs that contribute to the story’s overall themes. Relevant to setting, journeys tend to be an important motif to the story because a lot of intense personal growth happens as Elizabeth travels. Often, she is pulled to various locations due to circumstances beyond her control and she inevitably learns a lot on such journeys and grows considerably. The other notable motif in the novel is courtship because this also serves to encourage personal growth for the characters whereby they learn a lot about each other and a lot about themselves.

Themes in Pride and Prejudice

Here’s a list of major Pride and Prejudice themes.

  • Overcoming obstacles for true love
  • A woman’s reputation
  • Social class, class distinction, class status
  • The strength of family networks
  • Integrity and behavior

Overcoming Obstacles For True Love

social class in pride and prejudice Overcoming obstacles for true love – At its heart, Pride and Prejudice is a love story in which the characters have to fight through trials and tribulations before they can come together in happiness. Elizabeth and Darcy are a classic couple, but they could not reach their point of bliss until each character worked hard in order to overcome personal biases and flaws. This theme helps to show how self-improvement can lead to fulfilling romantic partnerships. As the title suggests, Elizabeth must overcome her prejudices and Darcy must fight away his prideful nature in order for a happy union to result. Throughout the process, they meet each other head-on to encourage these changes.

Other obstacles that stand to threaten Elizabeth and Darcy include many of the other characters. Mrs. Bennet tries to force Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, a man who she finds snobbish and dull. Lady de Bourgh is Darcy’s aunt and she wants to preserve her family’s social status. She sees Darcy’s engagement to Elizabeth as damaging to his social reputation and tries to break the couple up. Similarly, Miss Bingley is jealous of Elizabeth and sees herself as a more suited match for Mr. Darcy seeing as they are of a more similar economic class. Finally, Wickham poses as an obstacle to Elizabeth and Darcy being together as he lies about Darcy’s past in order to paint him in a negative light. This nearly works until Elizabeth learns that Wickham was actually the bad guy all along.

A Woman’s Reputation

A woman’s reputation – In a story that revolves heavily around how reputation affects people’s lives, there is a particular focus on how a woman must present herself to the world. Elizabeth refuses to adhere to societal norms for women. For example, she allows her shoes and skirts to become muddy, she has a sharp tongue that is seen as unbecoming for a young lady, and she refuses to marry for any reason other than actual love.

Elizabeth’s offenses against femininity are mild, however, compared to her younger sister Lydia’s actions. Lydia runs away with the dreadful Wickham and lives with him out of wedlock. When this threatens to ruin the entire Bennet family’s reputation, Elizabeth fights to make the situation right. It seems that she has grown too much just to risk watching it all come crashing down because of a judgmental society and her sister’s ill-planned actions. So while Elizabeth certainly pushes boundaries, she knows when to take a calculated step back.

Social Class and Class Distinction

class distinction in pride and prejudiceSocial class and social status – Throughout the novel there was much backlash against some of the upper-class characters rubbing elbows with lower-class characters. This serves to uphold the theme of overcoming obstacles for love but also creates a theme of its own. At this point in time for England, the lines between social and economic classes were very boldly drawn, and it was frowned upon for the upper-class to step too far down the economic ladder in terms of any type of relationship. This is part of why Mrs. Bennet was so obsessed with seeing her daughters marry wealthy gentlemen as this would raise their social status considerably. Throughout the novel, even though the Bennet family socializes with upper-class characters, they are clearly not in the same league and are treated as such. This is where Mr. Darcy’s pride tends to get in the way and serves as a threat to his personal search for happiness. Jane Austen makes this clear in several instances through the use of satire. For example, the snobbish and unlikable character of Mr. Collins satirizes the wealthy as does the deplorable Lady de Bourgh.

The Strength of Family Networks

main theme of pride and prejudice by jane austenThe strength of family networks – Each character of the novel has a network of family that serves to either help or hinder any given character’s growth. Family opinions seem to mean a lot to most characters in some way or another and this impacts how everyone interacts both in social settings and in more personal dynamics. The Bennet sisters are very close, particularly Jane and Elizabeth and they encourage and support one another. Even when Lydia behaves foolishly and runs off with Wickham, Elizabeth rushes to her aid. Female family members in particular tend to carry a lot of weight. Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bingley and Lady de Bourgh all behave out of self-interest and raise quite the stink when something happens that they don’t like. This serves to complicate things on many occasions and results in the understanding from several of the more major characters that they should depend on themselves above anyone.

Integrity and Behavior

Integrity and behavior – The novel’s main characters have strong integrity and throughout the events of the story they learn how to manage their disappointments in other people. Elizabeth, for example, is repeatedly disappointed at the way other people behave and she struggles to reconcile her own integrity against other characters’ acts of self-interest. Elizabeth upholds her integrity by refusing to marry anyone who she doesn’t love. In the end, she is rewarded for this by getting to marry for love and she gains great wealth in this union.