In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the emphasis is on irony, in its exposure of foolishness and the importance of social values.
Jane Austen’s irony is devastating in its exposure of foolishness. There are various forms of exquisite irony in Pride and Prejudice, sometimes the characters are unconsciously ironic, as when Mrs. Bennet seriously asserts that she would never accept any entailed property, though Mr. Collins is willing to. “Often Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth serve to directly express the author’s ironic opinion” (Trevor 352). When Mary Bennet is the only daughter at home and does not have to be compared with her prettier sisters, the author notes that: “it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance” (Austen 189). Mr. Bennet turns his wit on himself during the crisis with Whickham and Lydia: “let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough”(Austen 230). Elizabeth’s irony is lighthearted when Jane asks when she began to love Mr. Darcy: “It has been coming on so gradually that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly” (Austen 163). “She can be bitterly cutting however in her remark on Darcy’s role in separating Bingley and Jane” (Bowen 107): “Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him” (Austen 202). “The author also independent of any character, uses’ irony in the narrative parts for some of her sharpest judgments” (Bradley 9). The Meryton Community is glad that Lydia is marrying such a worthless man as Whickham: “… and the good nature wishes for her well doing, which had proceed before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost but a little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such a husband, her misery was certain” (Austen 270). “Austen uses irony to provoke gentle, whimsical laughter and to make veiled, bitter observations as well; in her hands’ irony is an extremely effective device for moral evaluation” (Francis 21): “She has Elizabeth say that she hopes she will never laugh at what is wise or good” (Austen 143).
The characters on Pride and Prejudice are full of social values. “Every character is measured against the intelligence and sensitivity which eighteen-century people called good sense, and they stand and fall by common consent of the evaluation made by the author” (Hirsch 74). “The characters themselves, the sensible ones, accept this standard, and their relationships are determined by it, Mr. Bennet cannot be happy with his wife because he does not respect her” (Watt 296): “Mr. Bennet saw his wife, he was thinking about how obstinate she was, how money made her so happy, and how hypocrite she was” (Austen 90). “For this reason he retreats the ridiculousness of his family into sarcasm and carelessness” (Schroer 84). “Elizabeth also feels pained by her family’s folly, and can not help realizing how harmful it is to Lydia’s and her own romances” (Brower 172): “I have bad news for you … imprudent as a marriage between Mr. Whickham and our poor Lydia would be, we are now anxious to be assured it has taken place in Scotland” (Austen 262). “Likewise when Charlotte Lucas marries the idiotic Mr. Collins for purely materialistic reasons, Elizabeth knows their friendship can never be the same; they will separate. This stress on good sense brings characters together as well” (Jenkins 289). Jane, Elizabeth, and the Gardiners are tied to each other by affection and an alert confidence in each other’s judgment. “They can rely on both the mind and the heart of the others’; this sensible and spirited attitude is what draws Darcy to Elizabeth in the first place. Since the quality of good sense is so important for the characters, we should know what it specifically is” (Watt 300). The two characteristics already mentioned, intelligence and sensitivity, are obviously essential. “A sense of responsibility also seems to be part of it” (Hirsch 64). Mrs. and Mr. Bennet are not sensible when they fail to guide their family. This responsibility involves a consideration for the feelings of other people which silly characters as Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Lydia Bennet conspicuously lack. “What happens in Pride and Prejudice happens to nearly all of us, embarrassment at the foolishness of relatives, the unsteady feelings of falling in love, and the mortify of suddenly realizing a big mistake” (Bradley 28). “The psychological realism of the novel is revealed in the quick recognition we have of how the characters feel, there is a very convincing view of how an intelligent, feeling person changes, the sensitiveness of how people do feel and act” (Trevor 351); as when Elizabeth and Darcy are angry at each other and how they completely change their minds with the passage of time.