Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” begins with one of the most famous first-liners in literature: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The line describes the overall theme and plot of “Pride and Prejudice.” However, more than anything else, this novel is a social commentary.
Almost immediately, readers are introduced to Elizabeth Bennet, who is observant, witty, strong-willed and independent. Described as plainer and overall less pretty and charming than her sisters, Elizabeth is set apart as the underdog of the story almost immediately.
The Bennet family, with their respectable fortune and reputation, must procure suitable husbands for their five daughters. Because of English property laws, the daughters must get married before their father dies or they will then be forced out of their home since they are not males and cannot inherit anything.
However, when the unmarried and rich Mr. Bingley moves into the previously vacant Netherfield Park, Mrs. Bennet works to forge a match between one of her five daughters and secure their future and fortune. The five daughters attend a ball and make Mr. Bingley’s acquaintance, and he seems to favor the eldest and prettiest of the daughters, Jane.
Now, prepare yourself for some drama: Mr. Bingley is best friends with a man named Mr. Darcy, who refuses to dance with any of the ladies and is rude to everyone, thereby drawing social ire from all in attendance.
At another ball, Mr. Darcy, who is Mr. Bingley’s friend, shocks the room by asking Elizabeth to dance. To add to the confusion and embarrassment, Elizabeth’s mother loudly brags that she is sure her daughter Jane will soon be engaged to the wealthy Mr. Bingley. A few days later, the sweet and gentle Jane receives a letter from Mr. Bingley’s sister breaking up with her on her brother’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth visits her friend when Mr. Darcy also shows up. She finds out Mr. Bingley was going to propose to Jane until Mr. Darcy persuaded him not to, and then Mr. Darcy proceeded to propose marriage to Elizabeth. At this point, it is looking as if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will never get together, like ever (cue Taylor Swift).
After all the family drama, Mr. Bingley returns and proposes to Jane, and Mr. Darcy admits to being a conceited, disagreeable and interfering man and apologizes to Elizabeth, who then agrees to marry him.
A lot of people today may not see how this book correlates to our society today, but not much has changed from the 1800s about society. Whether they admit it or not, people still judge others on their wealth, appearance and family.
Women have gained more independence since this time period; however, women are still not completely equal to men in terms of equal pay and other social instances. I think everyone should give “Pride and Prejudice” a try and appreciate Austen’s fearless passion for literature and her representation of strong women.