Irony in Pride and Prejudice
Irony forms the alma mater of Jane Austen’s novels. Likewise, “Pride and Prejudice” is steeped in irony of theme, situation, character, and narration. Austen uses it to establish the contrast between appearance and reality. As one examines “Pride and Prejudice”, one discovers the ironic significance of how pride leads to prejudice and prejudice invites pride. Importantly, the novel elucidates how both “Pride” and “Prejudice” have their corresponding virtues bound up within them: an intricate relationship that is at once contradictory yet deep. This goes in parlance with the critics of Austen who hold that she used irony as a shield to express her radical ideas. It enables her to expose the ills behind social institutions like marriage, aspects of the class system, and the entailing of property along gendered lines. It also enables her to expose authorial figures and national icons: a vicar (Collins), an officer in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces (Wickham), and an aristocrat (Lady Catherine.) It is interesting to note that in maintaining this mocking tone while dealing with controversial themes, Mrs. Bennet’s role becomes particularly important. Her social ineptness allows her to speak the truth about the unfairness of the system that threatens her daughters with lives of poverty and humiliation. She speaks honestly and openly about throwing her girls into the paths of rich men, and of course she has a point. Marriage was the only hope for educated ladies of the era, but only Mrs. Bennet has the ability to talk openly about it. And yet she is condemned as a woman of ‘illiberal mind’ and ‘mean understanding.’ Irony reflects not only a kind of awareness of the less admirable aspects of the human condition, but also a belief that such things are impossible to change. British satire has always had its conservative strand, which comes from skepticism about grand social statements and projects. As critic Alan Bloom puts it: “Irony flourishes on...
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