Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice portrays the social relationships among middle and upper- class families in Regency England. Pride and Prejudice relies heavily on the use of irony and satire and is a classic example of a comedy of manners. Austen expertly uses irony to satirise both the themes of social class and the disproportionate weight placed on marriage. This is clearly manifested in the novel’s highly stereotypical characters.
The novel is iconic for its opening line, where Austen immediately establishes the ironic narrative voice: “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This quote symbolises the overwhelming importance of marriage in Austen’s time. Pride and Prejudice constantly reinforces the notion that marriage was often not a by-product of love in Austen’s time. Rather, it was seen as a tool, which symbolised the allegiance of two families. Austen heavily parodies this unromantic view of marriage.
Through the use of satire and irony, Austen conveys important information about key issues she has with the significance placed on social standing, highlighting several aspects of the gentry that she distrusts.
Social class is satirised as it is portrayed as overriding everything else in life, including love and happiness. Darcy conveys this through his comment, “could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections… whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?” His clear disdain for the inferior classes satirises the significance of social stratification in Regency England. Although today’s social stratifications may seem less severe, we all see ourselves as belonging to one class or another, and make judgements and assumptions based on this.
Austen also satirises social standing by using stereotypical characters. The infamous Bingley sisters are so attached to the idea of material wealth that they fail to realize when their comments are unacceptable. Miss Bingley is so attached to the idea that she is superior to Elizabeth in every way, that she cannot understand why Mr. Darcy could possibly find Elizabeth attractive. Her status-hungry and conceited personality is juxtaposed with the character of her brother, Mr. Charles Bingley. Unlike his sisters, he is less concerned with social climbing; instead, he shows a gentler and more level- headed side to the gentry as he falls in love with Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane. Austen’s characterisation of Mr Bingley gives us insight into her personal values.
Austen again satirizes severe class-consciousness in the character of Mr. Collins, who spends most of his time sucking up to his upper-class patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Though Mr. Collins offers an extreme example, he is not the only one to hold such views. Take Mr. Darcy, who believes in the dignity of his roots; Miss Bingley, who dislikes anyone not as socially accepted as she is; and Wickham, who even acts...