Class is the target of much of the novel’s criticism of society in general. Austen makes it clear that people like Lady Catherine, who are overly invested in their social position, are guilty of judging that a person’s social rights are strictly defined by their class. Other characters, like the stuck-up Mr. Collins and the scheming Caroline, are depicted as thoroughly empty, their opinions and motivations completely defined by the dictates of the class system. Mr. Collins is not a part of the very high class, but driven by pride, he thinks he is. His marriage to Charlotte was his attempt to recover his pride after being rejected by Lizzy. That is what makes him so obnoxious; his focus is always on showing off himself and his situation in life. To contrast them, Austen offers more positive examples in Bingley and the Gardiners. Bingley is someone from the upper class who wears his position lightly and gallantly. The Gardiners represent the honest, generous, and industrious middle class and are examples of how even the middle class can be as educated and refined as the upper class. Austen does seem to respect the class system in a few ways, especially when it operates not as a dividing power in society, but as a force for virtue and decency. Darcy is the primary example of Austen’s ideal high-class gentleman. Though originally he seems to be an arrogant and selfish snob, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that he is capable of change. Eventually, thanks to Elizabeth’s influence and criticism, he combines his natural generosity with the integrity that he considers a crucial attribute of all upper-class people. He befriends the Gardiners and plays a key role in helping the ungrateful Lydia out of her crisis. The marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth shows that class restrictions, while rigid, do not determine one’s character, and that love can overcome all obstacles, including class. Pride
Pride is a constant presence in the characters’ attitudes and treatment of each other, coloring their judgments and leading them to make rash mistakes. Pride blinds Elizabeth and Darcy to their true feelings about each other. Darcy’s pride about his social rank makes him look down on anyone not in his immediate circle. Elizabeth, on the other hand, takes so much pride in her ability to judge others that she refuses to revise her opinion even in the face of clearly contradictory evidence. This is why she despises the good-hearted Darcy for so long, but initially admires the lying Wickam. Yet while Pride and Prejudice implies that no one is ever completely free of pride, it makes it clear that with the proper moral upbringing one may overcome it to lead a life of decency and kindness. In the end, the two lovers are able to overcome their pride by helping each other see their respective blind spots. Darcy sheds his snobbery, while Elizabeth learns not to place too much weight on her own judgments. Prejudice
Prejudice in Pride and Prejudice refers to the tendency of the characters to judge one another based on preconceptions, rather than on who they really are and what they actually do. As the book’s title implies, prejudice goes hand in hand with pride, often leading its characters into making wrong assumptions about motives and behavior. Austen’s gentle way of mocking Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s biases gives the impression that such mistakes could, and indeed do, happen to anyone; that faulting someone else for prejudice is easy while recognizing it in yourself is hard. Prejudice in the novel is presented as a stage in a person’s moral development, something that can be overcome through reason and compassion. Austen only condemns those people who refuse to set aside their prejudices, like the class-obsessed Lady Catherine and the scheming social climber Caroline. Austen’s work offers a powerful illustration of the damaging effects to people and to society that prejudice can inflict. Marriage...