In this post, we look at a case study for deep theme in Pride And Prejudice.
There are a lot of how-to-write books available for the author in practice. I own a few. But when I turn to books other authors have written to learn what they can teach me, inevitably one of my favourite go-to novels is Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen.
I’m rather addicted to Pride And Prejudice. I’m even listening to the soundtrack right now. Full disclosure…I’m listening to the soundtrack for Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, but what’s a zombie between friends.
There’s a reason Jane Austen is still read, enjoyed, and studied by English students from high school to university across the globe and that’s because the lady knows how to write!
How Many Themes Are There In Pride And Prejudice?
In short, SO many. Not content with merely the two in the book’s title, pride…and, well, yes, prejudice, other themes include:
- Personal reputation of both men and woman
- Reputation of a family
- Marriage for money
- Marriage for social standing
- Marriage for love
- Social rank
- Wealth or the lack of it
- The character of a person – integrity and behaviour
Why Should You Go Deeper Into Theme In Your Novel?
Deep theme gives reason to your character’s journey and change. It persuades the reader that your book is not filled with shallow, two-dimensional characters or plot. It makes the book more interesting to read.
Jane Austen tells her reader in the opening of the book, exactly what the book’s surface level plot, or main theme is; ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. One can almost hear Jane mutter the words ‘according to my mother’ under her breath.
Jane Austen doesn’t limit her themes to a generality throughout the book, like sprinkles on a cupcake. She explores them as they define one or more characters in the book.
- Personal reputation of both men and woman – Darcy, Wickham, Lydia, Georgina
- Reputation of a family – the Bennets, the De Bourghs
- Marriage for money – Wickham
- Marriage for social standing – Mr Collins, Charlotte Lucas
- Marriage for love – Bingley and Jane, Darcy and Elizabeth
- Social rank – the Bennets, the De Bourghs, Mr Collins, Charlotte Lucas,
- Wealth or the lack of it – Wickham, Darcy, the De Bourghs, Charlotte Lucas
- The character of a person as revealed by integrity, morals, and behaviour – everyone in the book
While for Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley a good reputation is important, for Lydia and Wickham it’s meaningless. Wickham, however, not only tries to destroy Darcy’s reputation but also uses it as a way to extort money from him, although he’s conniving enough to wait for Darcy to suggest it.
It’s Elizabeth’s attack on Darcy’s good reputation that starts our hero’s journey into humility and growth. While Darcy is proud of his, rather brutal, honesty, Elizabeth rightly accuses him of being ungentlemanly. It’s Elizabeth’s comment that hurts Darcy so much – his reputation for being gentlemanly is shredded.
Darcy bribes Wickham to marry Lydia purely to save the Bennet family’s reputation. And it’s that act, as well as learning the truth about Wickham and Darcy’s past, that causes Elizabeth to fall finally in love with Darcy, and not his money.
Marriage And The Reasons For It
In the era in which the novel is set, the wealthy married for land, money, and titles. Women of every class married for financial security and a hopeful increase in social standing as opposed to wealth – Like Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas.
While Mrs Bennet had dreams of her daughters making upwardly mobile marriages, she was also happy with them just being married. Wealth and social standing were, for her, bonuses. Having said that, the Bennets also had more chance of marrying for love. Wickham was only marrying for money and a commission in the army. Lydia was in search of fun and adventure. More in love with the idea of being married than in love with Wickham.
Within all of that we can see that Austen is exposing and exploring all the reasons for marriage within the book, not the mere modern HEA ending, which feels not that far removed from a Disney ending.
The two people most concerned with social rank within the book are Mr Collins and Lady Catherine De Bourgh. One is at the top of the social scale and one wants to be there. Austen mocks both of them for their superficiality and pride.
Even Darcy is concerned with social rank, but his case is different. He is on the cusp of becoming more like his aunt, Lady Catherine. But he has honesty on his side. When Elizabeth rejects him, he is honest enough to admit to himself that she was right and sets out to change.
The nicest people in the book are not concerned with rank; Jane Bennett, Bingley, and Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, the Gardiners.
Elizabeth appears not to be concerned about rank at all. She is much more interested in a person’s character.
As with social rank, Jane exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly of money. While Darcy is so used to it that he barely notices it, he is also generous. Lady Catherine is very aware of it and considers anyone without it beneath her notice.
Wickham wants it but can’t handle it. In his hands, it becomes sordid, destructive, and tainted. The following verses describe him and his actions perfectly: ‘Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away…’
Mr Collins, having recently inherited some, is puffed up in his conceit about it and in his acquaintance with the richest person in the book. His ‘generosity’ extends only so far as marrying one of the Bennet sisters. He’s not that fussed which. And that’s because it would increase his own social standing rather than any measure of generosity towards the family he is about to throw out of their home.
Pride and prejudice, the two main themes of the book relate to character. It is Darcy’s character that turns Elizabeth against him. But it is also his ability to change that attracts her. In another blog, we discussed why we, and Elizabeth love Mr Darcy. He is not a gentleman because of his rank or money, but because he behaves as one would wish all men behaved from the refusal of his proposal to the end of the book.
Wickham’s character on the other hand goes from bad to worse, plunging into ruin and destruction, not only of himself but Lydia as well.
A very brief look at the characters of the people in the novel shows that Austen ‘knew’ people.
‘Knowing’ people is one of the best gifts a writer can have and should work on developing throughout their writing career. With that knowledge, plots almost write themselves.
The Last Word
I hope this case study for deep theme in Pride and Prejudice helps you understand theme.
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device Hunter. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
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