The Heroes of Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennett is the protagonist of the novel and we can describe her as a witty, intelligent young woman who is admirable in the way that she understands that people are defined as much by their weaknesses as by their strengths. Interestingly, though, Elizabeth is a hero who makes lots of mistakes in how she judges people. Part of heroism is her intelligence and ability to think through the relationships around her. Elizabeth’s independent spirit is also what makes her a hero to many readers. In chapter eight, when Elizabeth has walked several miles across country, Miss Bingley says of her that “To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it ? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.” In chapter eleven of the book Elizabeth and Darcy have a conversation where Darcy explains himself and Elizabeth comments on that. It is the moment when they begin to make their connection. Elizabeth is a character who reconsiders events and tries to make sense of them.
Mr Darcy is the male protagonist of the novel and when he is introduced in the novel he appears to be an aloof and inconsiderate, wealthy man. When he is introduced in chapter three he is described as “ a fine figure of a man…and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud…” However, as Elizabeth learns, he is the model of integrity and kindness. His understated manner does not readily reveal his deep feeling. In chapter 18 they meet again and have an honest and somewhat difficult conversation at a dance.
Bingley is a good-natured soldier who is kind and understanding and polite.
The Villains of Pride and Prejudice
Whilst they are not melodramatic or theatrical in their villainy, Jane Austen’s antagonists embody the qualities of selfishness, pride and deceit that often characters the antagonists of a novel.
Lady Catherine DeBourgh
Lady Catherine DeBourgh, aunt to heroic Mr Darcy, is a rather controlling older woman within the social circle that Elizabeth Bennett finds herself in. Lady Catherine is condescending and likes people to recognize her position as we read here in chapter 29 when Mr Collins says to Elizabeth that “Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.”
Wickham the soldier is a very charming and attractive young soldier who we are introduced to in chapter 15. There is a moment in this chapter when Darcy is described as not being keen to acknowledge Wickham and this makes the reader wonder what the conflict might be between the two men. As time passes Wickham is revealed to not be as charming as he first seemed and he spreads negative gossip about Darcy, whom he has known since childhood. In chapter 35 of the novel, Wickham’s background is revealed in a section that also functions as a very useful example of how the written word can be used to summarise events, providing the reader with facts and a point of view about an event.
Throughout Pride and Prejudice, comedy is an important aspect and the character of Reverend Collins, whilst not a villain as such, does behave selfishly. He is a pompous clergyman, as Elizabeth describes him in chapter 13, who is not as appealing as he might think he is and who explains to Elizabeth, in chapter 18, that “I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.”
Throughout Pride and Prejudice, each character’s actions and thoughts express their values and ideas about they relate to the people around them. Heroism is shown by people who are thoughtful and considerate towards others. Villainy is shown by people who are selfish and manipulative of others.