Mr. Bingley pays a return visit to Mr. Bennet and is subsequently invited to dinner at Longbourn. Elaborate plans are made, but Bingley breaks them because of urgent business in London. He soon returns, however, along with his sister Mrs. Hurst and her husband, his youngest sister Caroline, and his friend Darcy for the upcoming ball.
Austen focuses on just a few families of different status—the extremely wealthy upper class (Bingley and Darcy) and the less wealthy country gentry (the Bennets)—in order to reveal the class dynamics of her society on a small scale.
The ball takes place at Meryton, where the locals gossip about the newcomers. Darcy is handsome but proud and aloof. Bingley makes friends with everyone, dancing every dance, including several with Jane, which makes the Bennets very happy.
Balls were among the few socially acceptable venues for mingling between the sexes. Here the locals make character judgments based on appearances and first impressions.
Elizabeth overhears Bingley tell Darcy that Jane is the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. Bingley demands that Darcy find someone to dance with, and suggests Elizabeth. Darcy says she isn't pretty enough for him. Elizabeth overhears, and is annoyed.
Returning home, Mrs. Bennet regales her husband with an abundance of details. She is excited for Jane and convinced of Bingley's interest in her, and detests Darcy for his attitude about Elizabeth.
Mrs. Bennet's attitude toward Darcy and Bingley is already fixed, showing how strong prejudices can be once formed.