Pride and Prejudice

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Prejudice Theme Analysis

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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.

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Prejudice Quotes in Pride and Prejudice

Below you will find the important quotes in Pride and Prejudice related to the theme of Prejudice.
Chapter 3 Quotes
His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.
Related Characters: Fitzwilliam Darcy
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth is about to overhear Darcy say to Bingley that Elizabeth isn't pretty enough for him to ask her to dance, so he'll prefer to ask no one. Darcy has acted proud and aloof throughout the dance, and this is the last straw for Elizabeth. Here, Austen screens a description of Darcy through the opinions of "everybody" at the party. Elizabeth may be making a relatively quick judgment about Darcy's character, but at least she is not alone in her judgment. Indeed, the fact that certain prejudices are shared by the majority of people in this small community is often what will allow them to be sustained for so long.

Darcy's coldness is not just looked down upon by the partygoers because he is rude; his attitude also suggests that he does not consider the others worthy of his attentions or of his politeness. As a result, their natural response is to act the same way towards him. Pride often kicks in, in the book, as a defense mechanism to prevent feelings of shame or inferiority, and here is the first major example of such a reaction.

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Chapter 4 Quotes
Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet (speaker), Jane Bennet
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jane and Elizabeth debrief on their experiences at the ball, Jane expresses surprise that Mr. Bingley would have paid her so much attention. Elizabeth exclaims that it is natural for him to do so, given all Jane's gifts. Elizabeth then criticizes Bingley's sisters, while Jane is reluctant to say anything bad about them. Here Elizabeth makes a more general statement about Jane's willingness to see the positive in everyone, and to fail to criticize - not because she is holding her tongue, but because she really is so slow to judgment. Elizabeth is implicitly contrasting Jane with her own tendency to judge others, a tendency shared by many in their community. 

In Austen's work, families often are composed of quite different elements, their members possessing distinct character traits, rather than being joined under a shared ethos. The differences between Jane and Elizabeth (not to mention the other Bennets) give Austen the opportunity to explore the intricacies of family life but also to develop some of her major interests, including that of prejudice, since each character reacts so differently to it.

Chapter 16 Quotes
When Mr. Wickham walked into the room, Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him before, nor thinking of him since, with the smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. The officers of the —shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but Mr. Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, George Wickham
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham find themselves at dinner together, and before Wickham sits down she watches him and compares him to his fellow officers. Just as Elizabeth was quick to pronounce a judgment on Darcy's demeanor from afar, now she quickly comes to an opinion about Mr. Wickham based largely on how he looks and acts, and although she doesn't know him very well. Here we see how prejudice does not always have to be a negative sentiment: indeed, one can easily be prejudiced in favor of someone or something. Although we see the scene through Elizabeth's eyes, we are meant to question her unbridled admiration. Is Wickham really the most admirable of all the officers, and in all the traits that Elizabeth describes? Austen is sympathetic towards Elizabeth's assumptions, but she also cautions the reader against being caught up in the same current.

Chapter 33 Quotes
If his own vanity, however, did not mislead him, he was the cause, his pride and caprice were the cause, of all that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. He had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil he might have inflicted.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Bennet
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Speaking with Colonel Fitzwilliams, Elizabeth learns that Darcy - a friend of his - has intervened to stop Bingley from making an "impudent marriage." Elizabeth realizes that he must be talking about Bingley's relationship with her sister Jane. She is appalled, and immediately takes the opportunity to condemn Darcy with all her judgment. She particularly criticizes his pride, as she assumes that he considers the Bennet girls too lowly and unworthy for a gentleman like himself and his friend Bingley. 

Although this understanding of marriage was relatively common at the time, Elizabeth takes a quite different opinion. She argues internally that Jane's character is so unblemished that anyone would be lucky to marry her, regardless of his fortune. It is Jane's unquestionable goodness that makes Darcy's actions such a crime in Elizabeth's eyes (not to mention her sense of pride in response to the notion that her family is more unworthy than others). Darcy sinks even lower in her estimation, even as she decides not to try to confirm her assumption by talking to Fitzwilliam.

Chapter 36 Quotes
I, who have prided myself on my discernment!—I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust.—How humiliating is this discovery!—Yet, how just a humiliation! ... Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, George Wickham
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth has read Darcy's long letter explaining himself, and although she only slowly begins to realize its truth, she soon accepts it and then turns to a contemplation of her own character and of her own mistakes. This interior monologue, in which Elizabeth flits from thought to thought, is a kind of epiphany: thanks to the letter, she sees her past and those around her in an entirely new light. It is only now that Elizabeth understands the full implications of her prejudice. She had always thought this attitude superior to that of Jane's, because it allowed her to be a good judge of character and separate the good from the ill. Now, however, she recognizes that her mistrust was completely baseless, and that she would have done well to follow the unprejudiced attitude of her sister.

In addition, Elizabeth has to come to terms with the painful realization that she has acted precisely opposite to the way she should have, prizing one man over another and courting unsavory values as opposed to defensible ones. It was her pride, among other things, that led to her stubborn judgments of Darcy, as well as to her prejudice in favor of Wickham. Elizabeth's mistake is thus humiliating because of the consequences it has for how she has treated other people; but it is also so painful because she realizes only now just how little self-knowledge she really had.

Chapter 40 Quotes
There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet (speaker), Fitzwilliam Darcy, George Wickham
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth is relating to her sister Jane everything that has happened and what she has learned since reading Darcy's letter. Here, she makes some remarks that sum up much of what she has realized about the two men, Darcy and Wickham: while Wickham has succeeded in convincing everyone around him that he is good, only Darcy is truly a good person. Darcy and Wickham have been paired at various points in the book: not only are they Elizabeth's two main love interests, but they allow Austen to develop a more nuanced account of prejudice and judgment by considering both men and both cases. Austen is not against all judgment: indeed, Elizabeth's pronouncement here can be considered another judgment itself. Instead, the book makes it clear that initial prejudice can often cloud rational thinking and prevent true, proper judgment - a process that only time, patience, and humility will allow to unfold.

Chapter 41 Quotes
Our importance, our respectability in the world must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character. Excuse me—for I must speak plainly. If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet (speaker), Mr. Bennet, Lydia Bennet
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Lydia has accepted an invitation from Colonel Foster to join the regiment at Brighton. It is not considered proper for a young woman to run after soldiers in such a way: even Elizabeth, who is quick to flout societal pressure in other ways, recognizes how important it is for Lydia's and the family's reputation that she calm down and refrain from acting in such a way.

Mr. Bennet is a largely "hands-off" father: that is, tucked away behind his newspaper, he lets things unfold as they will, without seeking to interfere in them in any way. Here Elizabeth begs him to reconsider this parenting strategy. She knows that if Lydia is allowed to do whatever she likes, she will never learn to to act properly, and soon she will be set in her ways - there is only a small window of time left. Elizabeth has taken it upon herself to look after her family's reputation, since her father is, in her eyes, failing to lead the family as he should, and she knows that this decision will only further contribute to their appearance of inferiority in the eyes of others - as well as contributing to Lydia's sorry character.

Chapter 44 Quotes
When she saw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a disgrace—when she saw him thus civil, not only to herself, but to the very relations whom he had openly disdained ... the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

Darcy has come to see Elizabeth and Jane with their relatives the Gardiners, and has even brought his sister Georgiana. The Gardiners are just the example of the kind of inferior relations that Darcy had mentioned when making his awkward proposal of marriage. Now that Elizabeth has rid herself of her prejudice against Darcy, she sees his tone and actions with new eyes: but it also seems true that Darcy's own attitude has shifted. A great part of the reason that Elizabeth had long wanted nothing to do with Darcy was that he looked down on her and her family, making her natural, even defensive feeling of pride kick in: now that reason seems no longer to exist. We are meant now to take Elizabeth's judgments at her word, having witnessed her epiphany and painful acceptance of the fact that she judged too quickly before. Now, instead, she pays close attention to what surrounds her so as to make the most accurate judgment possible. 

Chapter 48 Quotes
The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this ... They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family?
Related Characters: Mr. Collins (speaker), Mr. Bennet, Lydia Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Collins has written a letter of condolences to the Bennet family, but he hardly seems to strike a tone of compassion or understanding. Instead, his attitude seems almost gleeful, as he carefully delineates just how Lydia's ruinous decision will affect not only her life, but also the prospects of each of her sisters.

Lady Catherine, of course, should be known to us by now as proud in the worst ways, acutely aware of subtle class differences and eager to maintain those differences in any way possible - without taking to account more significant (at least in Austen's view) elements of character and morality that should support, not compete with, class distinctions. That Mr. Collins has embraced such a viewpoint speaks, in one sense, to his own sense of pride: having been refused marriage by one of the Bennet sisters, he takes some satisfaction in seeing the family fall from grace. But his attitude is also meant to stand in for societal opinions in general. In this environment, great danger can stem from one young woman's careless actions. Marriage for these women is not just a frivolous matter; without other means of freedom, it determines what kind of lives they can hope to have, so anything that jeopardizes their marriage prospects must be treated with the utmost seriousness.

Chapter 52 Quotes
They owed the restoration of Lydia, her character, every thing, to him. Oh! how heartily did she grieve over every ungracious sensation she had ever encouraged, every saucy speech she had ever directed towards him. For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him. Proud that in a cause of compassion and honour, he had been able to get the better of himself.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Lydia Bennet
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Gardiner's letter that it was in fact Darcy who negotiated Lydia's and Wickham's marriage and paid Wickham off, asking only that Mr. Gardiner take the credit so that his generosity might remain secret. Now Darcy grows in even greater estimation in Elizabeth's eyes. She is once again reminded of how she allowed too-quick prejudices to cloud her opinion of him, whereas now she has subtle but concrete proof of Darcy's goodness and humility.

Elizabeth recognizes, too, that pride doesn't always have to be a vice: you can be humble yourself but proud of other people, in which case the sentiment becomes virtuous. She knows that Darcy isn't perfect - he has the tendency to be proud just like her - but she realizes that he has conquered his innate sense of class differences in order to help a family in desperate need. As a result she only admires him more.

Chapter 57 Quotes
That is what makes it amusing. Had they fixed on any other man it would have been nothing; but his perfect indifference, and your pointed dislike, make it so delightfully absurd!
Related Characters: Mr. Bennet (speaker), Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Bennet has called Elizabeth in to share with her a rumor that is going around about Elizabeth's and Darcy's possible engagement. Mr. Bennet thinks that such a thought is wild and hilarious. He is absolutely certain that Darcy has no interest in Elizabeth, and that the same is true from his daughter to Darcy. Mr. Bennet has largely stayed out of his daughter's love interests and affairs before, and he doesn't meddle in them now, but his comment reflects the fact that he does have an opinion on what goes on even if he doesn't interfere. 

Elizabeth is embarrassed that her father has miscalculated so wildly. Like Elizabeth, in fact, he has judged the possible relation between her and Darcy and found there to be nothing that could possibly develop between them. Mr. Bennet's comment is thus meant to show once again how wrongheaded quick prejudice can be, not to mention painful for the parties involved.

Chapter 59 Quotes
I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage ... My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.
Related Characters: Mr. Bennet (speaker), Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet
Page Number: 356
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Bennet is initially shocked and confused when Elizabeth tells him the news of Darcy's proposal, and of her changing attitudes towards him. Indeed, his reaction and that of the entire Bennet family underline just how rare it is for someone's prejudices to change. But Mr. Bennet, unlike others, finds this change of heart a sign of Elizabeth's complexity of character, rather than of any kind of inconsistency.

Mr. Bennet has remained in the background for much of the novel. Here, though, we learn that he has a surprisingly nuanced understanding of what marriage means. He does not assume that men are naturally more intelligent and more witty than women: indeed, he clearly considers his daughter more clever and interesting than most. However, Mr. Bennet does see this quality as somewhat of a liability: he assumes that the man must always be considered superior in marriage, so the problem for Elizabeth becomes how she might find someone who is even more talented than she is. Mr. Bennet's remarks thus show a great deal of respect and care for his daughter, even as they also rely on certain assumptions about what an "equal" marriage entails that stem from sexist social realities.

Chapter 60 Quotes
The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet (speaker), Fitzwilliam Darcy
Page Number: 359
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth and Darcy finally directly broach the topic of their mutual prejudice and suspicion, as well as how those feelings began to loosen for each of them. Here Elizabeth suggests that it is precisely because she was not like other upper-class women, because she did not align with the assumptions of how ladies in her station should act, that Darcy slowly found himself attracted to her - even though Darcy always officially scorned women who failed to align with propriety. Elizabeth has a different view of marriage than many of her peers: she puts a great deal of emphasis on character, and this passage highlights how important she finds mutual attraction based on personality rather than on looks or on economic or social factors. Still, the fact that it took so long for Darcy to realize that he felt differently reminds us just how strongly he was influenced by the social ideas of what marriage should look like.