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The central theme of the novel concerns itself with marriage, as indicated in the ironic opening line of the book: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Throughout the novel, it is not the man who is seeking a spouse so much as it is Mrs. Bennet seeking suitable husbands for her older daughters.
The entire novel explores the various types of love and marriage. The Bennets’ marriage is shown to be a disaster, with the wife playing the part of a fool and the husband retreating to live an uninvolved life in his ivory tower. In contrast to the marriage of the Bennets is the pleasant conjugal life of the Gardiners, who are mutually compatible and supportive. Charlotte Lucas’ marriage to Mr. Collins is a compromise, one of economic necessity, so she will have a means of support. Lydia’s love, largely sensual, is pictured as a hollow kind of love between a senseless, vulgar flirt and a mean, unscrupulous man. In contrast, the love of Jane and Bingley is straightforward, simple, pure, and innocent. The relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth is a perfect match between two animated and intelligent adults who truly love, support, and respect one another. It is Jane Austen’s picture of the ideal marriage.
Pride and prejudice are additional central concerns of Jane Austen in this novel. Early in the book, she defines pride, via Mary Bennet, as the opinion one has of himself and distinguishes it from vanity which is "what we would have others to think of us". Although several of Austen’s characters, including Elizabeth, display some measure of destructive pride, it is Darcy who is the fully embodiment of a totally proud and arrogant man. Although pride is a natural adjunct to an aristocrat, in Darcy’s case it becomes his worst foe. Initially, it binds him within the narrow confines of the upper crust of society and gives him a distaste for the world which lies outside. Although he is attracted to Elizabeth, he is condescending towards her because of her inferior social level and her crass family. Even when he realizes his love for her and proposes, he is insulting and proud in his manner, causing Elizabeth to immediately reject his offer. Of course, she already holds a blind prejudice against him for the way in which he has earlier treated her and because of Wickham’s lies about him. Elizabeth’s rejection hurts Darcy’s pride and causes him to do some self analysis. Darcy’s later kindnesses to her and her family case Elizabeth to do a similar self analysis. In the end, the couple rises above their pride and prejudice, finding true love for and admiration of one another. Through Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane Austen clearly shows the harm that can be done when people do not see the truth about themselves or others.