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 Wickham. 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 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 heroine and hero 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. Though Pride and Prejudice is a social comedy, it offers a powerful illustration of the damaging effects to people and to society that prejudice can inflict.
The family is the predominant unit of social life in Pride and Prejudice and forms the emotional center of the novel. Not only does it provide (or fail to provide, as in the case of Lydia) the Bennet daughters with their education and manners, but the social ranking of the family determines how successful they may reasonably expect to be in later life. Austen skillfully reveals how individual character is molded within the family by presenting Jane and Elizabeth as mature, intelligent adults, and Lydia as a hapless fool. The friction between Elizabeth and her mother on the one hand and the sympathy she shares with Mr. Bennet on the other illustrate the emotional spectrum that colors the family's overall character. The influence of Elizabeth's aunt and uncle shows how the family works in an extended sense, with the Gardiners acting as substitute parents, providing much needed emotional support at key moments of stress.
Pride and Prejudice is a love story, but its author is also concerned with pointing out the inequality that governs the relationships between men and women and how it affects women's choices and options regarding marriage. Austen portrays a world in which choices for individuals are very limited, based almost exclusively on a family's social rank and connections. To be born a woman into such a world means having even less choice about whom to marry or how to determine the shape of one's life. The way that society controls and weakens women helps to explain in part Mrs. Bennet's hysteria about marrying off her daughters, and why such marriages must always involve practical, financial considerations. As members of the upper class, the Bennet sisters are not expected to work or make a career for themselves. Yet as women they are not allowed to inherit anything. As a result, marriage is basically their only option for attaining wealth and social standing. Yet Austen is also critical of women who marry solely for security, like Charlotte. The ideal for her is represented by Elizabeth, who refuses to trade her independence for financial comfort and in the end marries for love.
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 mistreating other people. Other characters, like the suck-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. 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 to be wealthy without being pretentious.
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.