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.