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How effectively does the opening chapter of 'Pride and Prejudice' introduce the reader to the central concerns and themes of the novel?

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Introduction

How effectively does the opening chapter of 'Pride and Prejudice' introduce the reader to the central concerns and themes of the novel? The novel Pride and Prejudice, originally entitled 'First Impressions' was written by Jane Austen and first published in 1813. It deals essentially with the fortunes of the Bennet family and their social circle. Several themes and central concerns feature throughout the novel and the reader is given a taste of these in the first chapter. The title itself, Pride and Prejudice embodies the central concerns which appear later in the novel. Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, the attributes of pride and prejudice certainly cause a number of characters to misjudge each other. This can be seen in the characters such as Elizabeth Bennet, who makes mistakes of judgement for George Wickham, Charlotte and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy is also guilty of excessive Pride and Prejudice which prevents him from having a clear understanding of Elizabeth. Elizabeth prides herself on her ability to judge other characters. Many of her observations have been correct, as she has a clear understanding of her mother, sisters and Mr Collins. Her friend Charlotte Lucas is a character she misjudges due to her pride. Elizabeth is unlike many girls of her time and won't marry for inconvenience. Although she is aware of Charlotte's differing opinion in terms of marriage, she is completely taken by surprise when Charlotte accepts Mr Collins' marriage proposal shortly after her own rejection of him. Elizabeth's surprise is due to her refusal to believe Charlotte would actually put her opinions to action. She is personally biased against Mr Collins in saying: 'Mr Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow minded man' Elizabeth's own pride will not allow her to marry Mr Collins for convenience and she misjudges Charlotte by believing she would also act the same way. Charlotte Lucas is not the only friend that Elizabeth misjudges. ...read more.

Middle

"Her mind was less difficult to develop," as she was more interested in getting her own way, rather than gaining knowledge and understanding. Mrs Bennet's "weak understanding" and "illiberal mind" prevents any "lasting affection". The matrimony succeeds on the grounds that they keep out of each other's way. The marriage of Lydia and Wickham is also one of little "understanding of one another's character" and as we later realise there is no "financial security" either. The initial attraction between the two characters was based on appearances and first impressions. However after initial attraction, Mr Wickham becomes disinterested in Lydia and this adds to the problems. A condemned Lydia fails to comprehend the shame she has brought upon the Bennet family. However the convenient marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins collaborates well. The first marriage seen in the novel is that between Mr Collins and Miss Charlotte Lucas and is probably the most typical marriage of the time. As Jane Austen states in the novel, 'It was the only honourable provision for well educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.' The marriage is not based on any physical attraction or true love between either party but different requirements from both sides. At twenty-seven and with little beauty or money to recommend her, Charlotte sees marriage as her best chance of securing a reasonable standard of living, good marital status and attaining financial security. 'Miss Lucas accepted him solely from the pure desire of an establishment' (page 103). As we had already learnt from Mr Collins's proposal to Elizabeth, he only has three reasons for matrimony; he would like to set a good example as a clergyman to his parish, he is confident it would add to his happiness and Lady Catherine advised him that he should marry ('twice'!). It is obvious Mr Collins does not care about beauty or love, since we are told Charlotte has little beauty and only three days before his proposal to Charlotte was his request of the hand of Elizabeth. ...read more.

Conclusion

The reader of the novel can tell that Mr Darcy too, wants to marry Elizabeth solely for affectionate reasons. One would expect him to marry a wealthy lady of high class, with many accomplishments, with excellent connections, etc. He has a large choice of women that would marry him yet explains to Elizabeth during his first proposal that he cares for her despite her awful family and the large drop in society. This shows he must truly love her. Society's rules cause many barriers for Elizabeth and Mr Darcy and Lady Catherine De Bourgh specifically reproves of the marriage. She has difficulty accepting it, visiting Elizabeth in person and questioning, 'Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?' (page 288), thus implying Elizabeth and her connections are so low they will contaminate the wonderful building only fit for those of a much higher class. It is possible that overall the marriage between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy is the most successful. When at last they are together they are financially secure and are accepted by most of society - eventually by Lady Catherine as well. The couple triumph over many original misunderstandings and conquer all their pride and prejudices against each other - in Mr Darcy's case also against her social class. The victory over numerous obstacles seem to have brought them closer together and genuinely in love, 'They were able to love each other, even as well as they intended.' Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are both straightforward characters that are intelligent and honest as well as caring and loving and they make an extremely compatible couple. Additionally, they continue to have equality within the relationship (it was often common at the time for the male to have a more dominant role) and as Georgiana is astonished to find, the couple constantly get along, always having something to discuss, 'she [Georgiana' often listened with astonishment . . . at her [Elizabeth's] lively, sportive manner of talking to her brother.' This marriage turns out to be the strongest and Jane Austen leaves nothing that could be criticised about the union. 1 ...read more.

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