The Moral Significance of Pride and Prejudice

Also Read

      Jane Austen is not a moralist or preacher, who like Aesop, looks upon the moral teaching as more important than the story element and modifies the latter according to the needs of the former. In fact, she has, in a way, ridiculed mere direct moralising through her delineation of the character of Mary, who is a bookish, arm-chair philosopher, and also of Mr. Collins whose letter of condolence is a dose of moral medicine.

      But Jane Austen has her own reflections on the problems arising out of social relationships which are deep down at the core of the conception of this novel. The effects of bad upbringing on the family and particularly the children, the results of the indiscreet or unfortunate race of marriage-seeking as in Lydia’s case, the gloomy side of a union that is not a marriage of two minds like that of Collins and Charlotte, — these and such other things are shown in such an implicit, indirect way in the novel that we can say with Oliver Elton that there is not much moralising in her novel.

      Jane Austen observation of inter-relations in social life certainly made her conclude that it is the conflict and friction arising out of anti-social qualities that work against social happiness and tranquility, jealousy, hatred, vanity, falsehood, shallowness are some such qualities. But at the root of social evil is the lack of consciousness in the individual that social good is always to be put before individual opinions, desires and ambitions on the one hand and public values, traditions and duty on the other. Charlotte, Collins and Wickham go to one extreme — public or social position, fortune are more important to them than self-respect and individual values of life: their suffering or fall arises out of this. Elizabeth and Darcy depend much more on individual judgment or values than on social view. Darcy behaves proudly because he feels himself superior to others; he considers himself as a person authorised to form a judgment on behalf of Bingley, and forces his opinion on him even though it proves to be an error of judgment. In his treatment of Bingley or even Wickham, he is honest to himself, but he thinks his judgment to be final. Elizabeth is an intelligent woman: Darcy’s pride hurts her own pride or self-respect, and she is quite sure that her judgment is most reliable. Both Darcy and she have now made the proper concession to the social view, they are now free from the dangers of intellectual complexity and so in their union they are hound to be happy. They are seen in the end not merely in their individual happiness but also in relation to society. This is the moral significance of the book.

Previous Post Next Post