Significance of the Title ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – The title of any book or piece of literary work usually conveys the idea of the main theme of the work. One can easily understand what the author will dwell upon in the literary work from the title. Jane Austen employs the style of pairing two slightly contrasted “ethical” terms to serve as the title of her novel Pride and Prejudice. For the novel, Jane Austen first selected the title First Impressions. But when she revised it, she gave the current title. This style of “ethical” title was commonly associated with „conduct‟ fiction, the books were designed to illustrate in their stories and commentary the correct way for young women to behave in the situations. They were likely to encounter in polite mi polite middle class society- how a young lady should composed herself at dance how she should deal politely get firmly with a young man who is presenting her, how she should deal who insults her; how she should refuse an offer of marriage how she should behave towards an older woman of superior rank. And these precisely are the situations that Elizabeth Bennet has to cope with and obviously the question of her conduct is on these occasions is paramount in Pride and Prejudice.
It is a truth that one cannot get second chance to make a first impression. As discussed above, first title of the novel was “First Impression”. Perhaps, it was given to it when Darcy meets Elizabeth and her family for the first time in a ball. Darcy makes his first impression and so as Elizabeth. Nonetheless, impressions of both the persons were too bad. Elizabeth thinks that Darcy possesses too much pride and to some extent she is true. His remarks “she is not handsome enough to tempt me” makes Elizabeth prejudiced. First impression in fact was so bad that it creates hatred. This title although is relevant yet it describes only a part of the novel.
Against the morality of “conduct fiction” Jane Austen sets her own individual mode of anti-conduct fiction. In the novel as a whole, the anti-contained within the exploration of the terms “Pride and Prejudice”. Sometimes the terms are discussed and analysed directly, as they are when Elizabeth and Darcy examine themselves and scrutinize their past feeling and behaviour. More generally they force of the terms is illustrated dramatically in the scheme of characterisation, which extends outwards from the hero and heroine, showing the depth and complexity of human that can stand behind nature that can stand behind terms so decrepitly simple. In Darcy ‘Pride’ is both positive and Negative; both a proper, justified pride in the history of his family and an offence, Elizabeth’s ‘Prejudice’ is the negative aspect of something positive, her spirit and high intelligence. She confesses this to Jane.
The words ‘Pride’ and ‘Prejudice’ are very significant in the characterization of the novel. The hero and heroine of the novel embody these traits of human character. When Mr. Darcy was first introduced in the novel, he was declared to be, “The proudest, most disagreeable man in the world.” All his actions may be traced to pride. Wickham explains this pride to Elizabeth Bennet as ‘filial pride’. As he belongs to the upper middle class of the society, he bears this pride of being superior to others. This cult of pride he inherited from his father is now dead. This pride is also in the character of his sister, Georgiana, and Wickham calls it “brotherly pride.” He ironically tells that pride has often been his best friend. Darcy admits it and says that his pride consists in his being ‘selfish’ and ‘overbearing’. He makes a confession to Elizabeth when he contemplates over his past actions that his father had a role in making him proud. In spite of being taught good principle, he was allowed and even encouraged by his father to be ‘selfish’ and ‘overbearing’ to think meanly of all the rest of the world and at least to wish to think meanly of their sense and worth when compared to his own going to propose to Elizabeth, he was not forgetful of his pride. He spoke of tenderness and pride with equal balance. Even his pride makes him blind to the faults of the members of his own class.
Also Read :Character Analysis of Elizabeth Bennet
Darcy’s pride makes him turn down the proposal of dancing with Elizabeth made by Bingley. In a humiliating tone, he says, “She is not handsome enough to tempt me,” This wounds her sentiment and makes her prejudiced against Darcy. To Charlotte, she reveals that she has resolved to hate him onward. This prejudice of Elizabeth against Darcy further depends on when he makes a confession of his implacability at Nether field- “I cannot forget the follies and vices of others as soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My good opinion once lost is lost forever.” Darcy is not only proud but also prejudiced against all who are not at par with him in richness and social position. His social superiority, refinement, and wealth lead to this general prejudice. That is why, he is as Elizabeth has made it clear later on, prejudiced against Wickham, Jane and in general against anything that does not fit into his social world. On the other hand, Elizabeth has her pride. Her pride consists of being perceptive and refined. At the same time, she is prejudiced against Darcy. But her prejudice does not stem from any moral purpose but from her hurt-pride. It was her personal pride when Charlotte says that Darcy has a right to be proud, Elizabeth does not protest but says, “I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine.” It is easy to understand the term pride but prejudice has broader meanings. However, short definition of prejudice should be kept in mind i.e. preconceived opinion that is not based on reason and actual experience.
Similarly, Jane Austen clears in the novel the difference between vanity and pride in the following words: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” Hence, pride is what we think of ourselves, vanity is what others think and prejudice is to create false opinions without knowing a person. So, she is both proud and prejudiced. However, Pride and Prejudice is not a “conduct Fiction” and so there is no “how” in Jane Austen, no directive about right and wrong ways to behave. Judgments of Elizabeth do not arise from rules of propriety but from her behaviour as a unique individual in circumstances which are particular to her. Her “Prejudice” was originally fired by her hurt “Pride” at the Meryton Ball, by Darcy‟s insulting proposal of marriage( at Hunsford) and by slanders spread by Wickham. Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice play a vital role throughout the novel. Jane Austen does not simplify the study of pride and prejudice in the novel. Elizabeth too seems to be proud of her capability of judging people. Similarly Darcy is prejudiced against any outside the circle of his class and so long held the view that girls of beauty as well as virtue is a monopoly of the aristocracy.
But in course of time, they sacrifice their Pride and Prejudice as they become convinced of the hollowness of these vain sentiments. The vulgarity of Darcy’s aunt shocked him and taught him that refinement is not the monopoly of the elite. This new vision of him led him to play a vital role in the Lydia-Wickham episode. Besides, Elizabeth’s refusal to marry him opened his eyes that social superiority was not everything in life. Thus there is a new-awakening in his heart and he shacks off his pride and prejudice completely. Elizabeth too gets a new understanding. The letter of Darcy helps her give up her pride and prejudice. Now she is ashamed to think how she has been ‘blind, partial, prejudiced and absurd’. This new awakening of herself prompted her to reassess Darcy and recognized his talent and good disposition. She even considered that Darcy would most suit her. So long, pride and prejudice blinded them and now these verities have disappeared. Time is now ripe for them to get married. In Charlotte, Lucas, there is also the sinking of self-pride for the sake of marriage to a man (Mr.Collins) whose own self-pride is lost. In Mr. Bennet selfpride is embittered, turned to malice, elated into a power of isolation and affected indifferences.
Pride and prejudice were not in the characters of the hero and the heroine only. Gilbert Ryle says, “Every character of the novel exhibits too much or too little pride of a bad or silly sort or pride of a good sort, sham pride or genuine pride and so forth.” Mr. Bennet has genuine pride. He hates the despicable. But his pride is inverted and unexecuted. He voices his just contempt in witty words but he does nothing to prevent or repair what he condemns. Mr. Bingley has no special pride but his sisters are proud in the sense of being vain. In this way, almost all the characters have more or less of pride and prejudice. It is true that Jane Bennet and Bingley are not part of the theme of Pride and Prejudice but their love is an important link in the novel and without it the story cannot be complete. Jane is a specimen of faultless beauty and she is free from all the vices of Elizabeth’s temperament she is neither proud nor prejudiced and is ever willing to see good in everyone. Similarly Bingley is easy going and friendly and has none of the haughtiness, pride or cold reserve of Darcy. But both Jane and Bingley are simple characters and are not sufficiently profound. It is the intricate characters of Darcy and Elizabeth that hold our interest and exemplify the theme and title of the novel.
Darcy and Elizabeth are of course, the pivotal characters but the subsidiary characters also tend to demonstrate further aspects of the main themes. Thus, we have the theme of pride and its adjunct flattery and sycophancy repeated in the characterization. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a hilarious caricature of the same faults of pride and prejudice. She has all the pride of family and position that Darcy has plus an unfailing sense of her own personal superiority, which prejudices her against Elizabeth. Mr. Collins is a mixture of obsequiousness and pride. He is a sycophant, an out and out flatterer of Lady Catherine. Mrs. Bennet has a pride in her daughters and in her stupidity develops a prejudice against Darcy stronger and more blind than Elizabeth’s. Miss Bingley says rightly of Elizabeth that she is a mixture of pride and impertinence but the fact is that Miss Bingley herself and her sister Mrs. Hurst, are only further representations of precisely these qualities.
Title “Pride and Prejudice” shows real controversy between two persons, therefore, it has much significance. It is revealed at the end of novel that there was nothing between them except pride and prejudice. In short, novel discusses two human traits in detail, therefore, we can say that Jane Austen was not in hurry in choosing the title “Pride and Prejudice” for her novel. Though the title first impression also suits yet “Pride and Prejudice” is attractive because it has much significance and it elucidates the whole story. The title Pride and Prejudice is thus, very apt and points to the theme of her novel. The novel goes beyond a mere statement of first impressions and explores in depth the abstract qualities of pride and prejudice – how they grow and how they can be overcome. This theme is worked out through not only her pivotal characters Darcy and Elizabeth but also through the various minor characters. Jane and Bingley do not, it is true, represent these qualities but by contrast they throw into relief the obstacles that pride and prejudice bring in the lives of Elizabeth and Darcy. Alliterative and pithy it is a title which does complete justice to the theme and subject of the novel.