Distinguishing Appearance and Reality in Pride and Prejudice

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      Underlying the theme of marriage in Pride and Prejudice there is a larger theme of distinguishing appearance from reality. Jane Austen upheld the marriage of true minds based on mutual love, respect and understanding as the ideal marriage. The coming together of the true minds depends upon their knowledge of themselves and each other. The theme of fully knowing one’s mate before marrying is thus, linked to the theme of distinguishing appearance from reality. Everyone in the book is deceived on some point or Another, usually because of trust in outward appearances.

The Theme of Appearance/Reality as Exemplified in Elizabeth

      The theme is most obviously exemplified in Elizabeth. Elizabeth has a keen perception and is usually a good judge of character. She is able to see that though the Bingley sisters appear to be well-bred and charming, they are actually conceited and conniving. She is able to see that though Lady Catherine appears to be formidable, she has actually nothing to be proud of apart from her wealth and has no power to really change anybody’s life. Her father for all his appearance as a man of intelligence, actually lacks a real moral sense and has no responsibility towards his daughters. But she fails in distinguishing between appearance and reality when it comes to intricate people such as Charlotte, Darcy and Wickham. Charlotte is her close friend and Elizabeth judges merely on appearances in this case. She recognizes Mr. Collins’ total foolishness and Charlotte’s intelligence but does not realize the reality of economic pressure which can bring such a mis-matched couple together. Though, Charlotte has earlier offered her cynical views on courtship and marriage as being purely a matter of chance, Elizabeth refuses to take her word and only when she is confronted with the reality of the Charlotte-Collins marriage does she really see Charlotte for what She is and feels that there can be no confidence or intimacy again between them.

Wickham’s Duplicity

      When complexity and a pleasing manner combine, as they do in Wickham, Elizabeth is totally unable to distinguish appearance from reality. Wickham appears clever, charming, attentive and witty and is the favourite, infact of Meryton as a whole. Elizabeth is taken in by his surface charm and prejudiced as she is against Darcy, she totally believes Wickham’s slanderous information about Darcy. But Wickham for all his charming appearance and manners in really an unprincipled rake, a gambler, who has tried to seduce Darcy’s sister and who in the end elopes with Lydia. It is only Darcy’s letter of explanation which makes Elizabeth begin to see Wickham’s deceptions beneath his outward charm and his totally unprincipled act of running away with Lydia brings home to Elizabeth his real nature.

Appearance and Reality in Darcy

      Darcy appears proud at the beginning but while it is true that he is proud, part of his aloofness stems really from his shyness. If he appears too critical of the Bennet family and of Meryton in general it is also because he possesses really a fine sense of discrimination and keen intellect unlike the easygoing Bingley. Elizabeth in her blind prejudice refuses to see beyond the surface pride of Darcy and attributes all his actions to his pride. At Netherfield when Darcy is found to be staring at her, she thinks that he must in some way find her reprehensible. She is thus, carried away by his first appearance as a proud man and does not see his growing love for her. Darcy who appears totally unappealing in his pride and snobbery is really at the end a fine man, a true chivalrous gentleman who pays off Wickham to marry Lydia and associates himself with the Bennett family disgrace because of his great love for Elizabeth.

      Elizabeth who herself appears intelligent and discerning is really unable to judge the complex people who are close to her.

The Theme as Exemplified by other Characters

      There are other characters too, who fail to distinguish appearance and reality. Lydia is overcome by the appearance of the charming Wickham and fails to see his real nature. Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters are all silly and stupid, excited merely by the appearance of men in uniform not caring for the reality beneath. Lady Catherine is unable to see the true worth of Elizabeth and underestimates her both at Rosings and at Longbourn only on the basis of Elizabeth’s apparent lack of a good family background. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet fail to recognize Elizabeth’s love for Darcy until it is announced. Darcy himself is taken in by outward appearance. He had dismissed Elizabeth as not being handsome enough to tempt him and only later does he realize how truly charming, beautiful and refined Elizabeth is. He has separated Bingley from Jane, for, Jane, he tells Elizabeth had not “appeared” to be in love with Bingley. Mr. Collins too thinks that Elizabeth’s rejection of his proposal is only a manifestation of feminine coyness and does not realize Elizabeth’s honesty. The dialogue in the novel too tends to obscure the meaning, making it difficult for both the characters and the reader to distinguish between appearance and reality.


      Thus Pride and Prejudice exemplifies the theme of distinguishing appearance from reality as part of the theme of marriage. The major characters, Darcy and Elizabeth as well as other characters all reveal at various junctures a failure to distinguish between appearance and reality. Only at the end of the book is everything made clear, to characters and readers alike, and only then does all the “reality” appear as it really is.

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