Pride and Prejudice


Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice: Motifs 3 key examples

Definition of Motif
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—Letters:

Centering the importance of “good manners,” the characters in Pride and Prejudice are rarely able to say what they actually think when communicating with each other in social settings. Letters are one of the only ways characters are able to tell the truth and thus become one of the novel’s motifs.

Several characters pen notes to each other, often leading to shifts in how they relate to pride and prejudice, as well as marriage prospects. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth is the most obvious example of this. Aware that Elizabeth believes Wickham’s story about his “misfortunes,” Darcy takes the time to explain the truth about what happened—that Wickham gambled away his money and willfully manipulated Darcy’s 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, in an attempt to access her inheritance. He also explains why he encouraged Bingley to let go of his feelings for Jane—it was not because of prejudice against her based on her lower social class, but his belief that she did not feel strongly for him. The truth in this letter leads Elizabeth to question all of her judgments of Darcy and start to consider him a kind and caring person.

Other letters lead to important shifts in perspective and plot throughout the novel: Jane writes to Elizabeth from London to lament Caroline Bingley’s “inattention” to her, one of the only moments that Jane feels comfortable disparaging another character. Mrs. Gardiner (Elizabeth’s aunt) also writes a letter in which she tells the truth to Elizabeth (and only Elizabeth) about Darcy being the person who is responsible for saving Lydia’s reputation by paying Wickham to marry her. This is the moment that encourages Elizabeth to believe that it’s possible Darcy may still want to marry her after all. Letters, in turn, consistently bring about some kind of important development in the way the book's characters think about each other and their relationships.

Explanation and Analysis—Dancing:

The first volume of Pride and Prejudice features several balls where, through partnered dance, different relationship dynamics between the characters come to light. These balls form a motif of dancing that encourages readers to take note of which characters work well together as dance partners and perhaps, Austen implies, as life partners. In other words, the way that characters engage in dance mirrors their courtship patterns, foreshadowing who may make a good pair in marriage.

At the assembly ball where the Bennets first meet Darcy and Bingley, Bingley dances every dance—highlighting his fun and social nature—and shows interest in Jane right away by repeatedly asking her to dance with him. Darcy, on the other hand, rarely dances and blatantly refuses to ask Elizabeth to dance because she is “not handsome enough.” This moment encourages readers to understand Bingley to be an excellent romantic fit for Jane and also to form a judgment of Darcy similar to Elizabeth’s—that he is proud and unpleasant.

When Bingley throws a ball at Netherfield, Collins asks Elizabeth to dance, and Elizabeth narrates that he “often mov[ed] wrong without being aware of it,” which is the narrator's way of hinting that they are not a good match. Darcy, on the other hand, is a good dancer, but he and Elizabeth get into an argument while dancing, indicating that they could make a good pair if they stopped letting pride and vanity get in the way.

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Explanation and Analysis—Traveling:

Most of Pride and Prejudice takes place in the small village in Hertfordshire where the Bennets live. That said, there are several key moments in the novel when characters travel to new places, creating a motif of traveling. Whenever a character travels, the change of scenery also changes their outlook. This is especially true for Elizabeth, who develops and then lets go of her prejudice against Darcy as a result of various travels.

While Elizabeth initially judged Darcy at the first ball he attended in Hertfordshire, her prejudice against him increases after traveling to Netherfield and staying overnight to take care of a sick Jane. There, she learns of Darcy’s requirements for a potential wife (“thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages” and more) and responds with derision, saying: “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

Many chapters later, Elizabeth travels to Hunsford to visit Charlotte, who has recently married Collins. Once she's there, she is surprised to encounter Darcy and, after some tension, learns the truth about his romantic feelings for her and (via a letter) how he acted justly in his relationship with Wickham. She heads back to Hertfordshire completely changed, questioning herself about her pride and prejudice toward Darcy.

Elizabeth’s last major travel experience with her aunt and uncle takes her past Pemberley, where she unexpectedly encounters Darcy. It is this experience that convinces her of his goodness—he has clearly shifted his behavior, behaving cordially to her and the Gardiners. When she returns home, she is very much in love with him and has come to accept how very wrong she was in her judgments of him. In turn, it becomes clear that there's a pattern at play in the novel—a pattern in which traveling ends up shifting a character's perspective.

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