Who is Proud and Who is Prejudiced?

Who is Proud and Who is Prejudiced?

Recently I found myself contemplating the importance of titles in Austen’s oeuvre. Although I’ll admit I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the deeper meaning behind Mansfield Park or Emma, some of the other titles gave me food for thought. Persuasion obviously refers to one of the central issues of the novel: Anne’s need to overcome the influence of her friends and family over her love life. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor represents sense while Marianne represents sensibility—although I love how each sister comes to appreciate the value of the other’s perspective.

Pride and Prejudice, however, remains a bit of an enigma which defies a simple explanation. Exactly who is proud and who is prejudiced? When I first read the novel I thought it was completely clear. Darcy is the proud one; after all, he and Elizabeth have an entire conversation at Netherfield about whether his pride is warranted. On the other hand, Elizabeth is the prejudiced one. She makes negative assumptions about Darcy’s character based on a handful of incidents (and Wickham’s lies) and then realizes that she has prematurely jumped to conclusions. Thus I thought the meaning of the title breaks down as neatly as Sense and Sensibility’s does.

However, a little while ago in a Facebook conversation with a fellow JAFF author I discovered she thought it was clear that Elizabeth was the proud one and Darcy was prejudiced. My first impulse was to argue about why she was mistaken. ? But then I started to think about the characters’ behavior through this other lens.

When Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s first proposal he accuses her of having wounded pride, and he’s not wrong. One of the reasons Elizabeth dislikes him is because he wounds her pride at the Meryton Assembly (although she laughs it off) and offends her pride in her family. Darcy, in turn, is prejudiced against Elizabeth based on her class position and her family’s behavior. Although he appreciates her character, he cannot get past his biased opinions about her social station.

It was only when I realized this that I understood the true brilliance of Austen’s title. The main characters in P&P don’t break down into categories like those in Sense and Sensibility because they are both proud and they are both prejudiced. And those are obstacles that they both need to overcome in order to achieve happiness together.

Thus the title of Pride and Prejudice is less like Sense and Sensibility and more like Persuasion, which is also named for an intangible obstacle that the protagonist must overcome. The result of my musing was a renewed appreciation for the brilliance of Austen’s title. It provoked me into another look at the characters and a deeper understanding of the book itself.
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21 Responses to Who is Proud and Who is Prejudiced?

  1. I agree that D&E both showed Pride and Prejudice in their behavior and in their actions toward each other. I am still amazed that they managed to get together.

  2. Victoria, I enjoyed this thought provoking post! We are so quick to put a “label” on someone. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. One of the pleasures, for me, of reading P&P is discovering where Jane has invested pride and where she has invested prejudice into her characters. There seems to be a lot of both to go around. It’s almost like “hide and go seek” to discover each instance for what it is. Perhaps I read this story differently than others do, but my take on it is that it shows that both attributes are part of just about everybody’s personality and therefore displayed by just about everybody at some point. Different circumstances elicit these two attributes differently in each person. It’s very easy to attribute one or the other trait to the main characters, but I don’t think that was Jane’s purpose in writing this story as she did. Human nature is what it is and we all have a part in it. Just my humble opinion, of course.

  4. I always thought it would be almost fun to make a story-line graph of when each of them, Darcy and Elizabeth, are suffering more from pride or more from prejudice. Sometimes, of course, they suffer from both in equal measure. I feel Charlotte and Mr. Bennet are there to act as the most logical and practical characters, emphasizing when others are being driven by prejudice and pride. Then, of course, we could delve into different types of each. For example, could it not be argued Charlotte’s desires to have her own home and not to be a burden on her family stem, in a way, from pride? It would somewhat shame her not to have those things. Lady Catherine is there, I feel, to show what extremes of both pride and prejudice make of a person. Really, Jane Austen’s writing is amazingly nuanced.

  5. I love this post! I have always seen a little of both pride and prejudice in both main characters. However, Elizabeth does flat out say that she could more easily forgive his pride had he not wounded hers, so she as much as admits there that she is prideful. I think this pride/prejudice thing is one of the reasons the book has been so popular for so long. Jane Austen really was a brilliant author!

    • Hi Zoe, Thank you for your kind words. I sometimes feel like a dope saying “Isn’t Austen great?” since it’s so obvious (I actually have the same experience with Shakespeare), but every once in a while I have another insight which reminds me how nuanced her writing is.

  6. I LOVE this. Like you, when I first read it, I thought Darcy proud and Elizabeth prejudiced. And then as Debbie has said, I considered maybe it went to the first interaction: Darcy was prejudiced and Elizabeth was proud. But, truly, I think they both have pride and prejudice. In fact, I think every character in the book does (yes, even Jane). And I think Austen also gives it to us through a very biased lens of the narrator. I can’t get over how clever Jane Austen was!

    • Hi Rose, I’m glad you enjoyed it. As I was saying to Zoe, I sometimes can’t get over what a great writer Austen was. You’re right that everyone exhibits pride and prejudice (even Jane) and it makes me more aware of my own tendencies to do so sometimes.

    • Hi Priscilla, I know what you mean. I feel silly running around saying that one of the greatest writers in the English language is brilliant (well, duh), but there are times like these when I’m struck anew by her talent.

  7. It is funny, but I originally thought that Elizabeth was the proud one, for the reason you stated, and that Darcy was prejudiced against Meryton society due to the crassness of the behavior of some, especially Mrs. Bennett and her two youngest girls. I knew Darcy had pride, but thought his prejudice was brought to our attention near the beginning of the book. Thank you for this thought provoking post.

    • Hi Debbie, Yeah, I thought the opposite at the beginning — as I mentioned. But I have to commend Austen for giving the book that title because it really made me think about the different ways each character (not just D and E) exhibited pride and prejudice.

Your thoughts are precious!