Pride and Perception in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Austen's society values impressions, and considers them an important aspect of their culture. A first impression determines the entire perception of that person. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet learns a hard lesson by basing her perception of other characters completely on their first impressions. "The comedy is concerned with a heroine who must be educated out of a condition of self-deception brought on by the shutters of pride into a condition of perception when that pride had been humbled through the exposure of the errors of judgement into which it has led her" (Watt, 98). Through occurrences within the novel Pride and Prejudice, the perception based on first impressions of Wickham and Darcy in Elizabeth Bennet's eyes alters.
Elizabeth's first impressions of Wickham and Darcy come from social interaction. At a ball in Meryton, Darcy's "character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again" (Austen 11). This quick opinion of Darcy's character opposes the opinions of Wickham. He appeared "far beyond them all in person, countenance, air and walk." Wickham also seemed, "the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned" (Austen 66). Elizabeth makes a quick judgement of both the characters and personalities of Darcy and Wickham. "Elizabeth is completely taken in by the almost transparent duplicity of Mr. Wickham regarding himself and his relations with Mr. Darcy and the Darcy family" (Moler, 25). These drastic perceptions affect her feelings for Darcy. Elizabeth chooses to befriend Wickham, and in turn learns much about Darcy from him. "Elizabeth found the interest of the subject increase [and] Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics" (Austen 69). She begins to take a general interest in their friendship, and in turn her opinion of Darcy becomes more atrocious.
Elizabeth learns that "all his [Darcy's] actions may be traced to pride; and pride has often been his best friend" (Austen 71). Wickham continues his conversation and eventually tells Elizabeth that Darcy threw him from his household into a life of poverty. "Most important, of course, is Elizabeth's misjudgement of Darcy's character: the overreaction to his pride and reserve that makes her unable to see what lies beneath it" (Moler, 26). Wickham's actions and words lead Elizabeth to a harsh perception of Darcy and a kind perception of...