5. Plot Construction in Pride & Prejudice

5. Plot Construction of Pride and Prejudice

“I am inclined to say in desperation, read it yourself and kick out every sentence that isn’t as Jane Austen would have written it in prose. Which is, I admit, impossible? But when you do get a limpid line in perfectly straight normal order, isn’t it worth any other ten?”          (Ezra Pound)

Plot is a literary term which is used to describe the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events are closely related to each other in pattern or sequence. The structure of a novel fully depends on the organization of events in the plot of the story. Without the sequence of the events, a successful plot cannot be made. Aristotle also opines that a good plot has a beginning, the middle and an end. He suggests that a plot should be made in such a way that no incident can be displaced or omitted without disturbing the unity of the whole.

Jane Austen is master in creating great and successful plot. She knows how to handle the warp and woof of the work she is handling. In Pride and Prejudice, she has presented the picture of a small and cocooned world of the middle class gentry. They have been fully and skillfully presented with their common place pleasures and sorrows. The main concern of this story is Mrs. Bennet’s who is trying to make dogged efforts to find suitable husbands for their eldest daughters. There is no doubt in the fact that her judgements cannot be trusted because we see that she is a nagging wife and an ineffectual mother. She is completely misfit in social scenario created in the novel. The way she behaves foolishly and her repeated failures hold the plot together into a unified whole.

The main theme of the plot is no doubt marriage. The theme of the story is very obvious in the very first line of the story when she writes: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a good fortune must in want of a wife.” The main focus on the theme of marriage is brought before us in the very beginning when we see Mr. Bingley, ‘a single man of large fortune’ coming and staying at near-by Netherfield. His arrival immediately fires the imagination of Mrs. Bennet. For the further development of the plot, there happens a series of parties, balls, and tea, etc. These gatherings bring the main characters -Bingley and Jane and Darcy and Elizabeth together. They all become the representatives of culture, manners, fashions, pretensions and snobberies of the English gentry.

The very first ball that is held at Netherfield points out the things to follow. The amiable Jane and the gentle Bingley are almost instantly drawn to each other. In contrast, the proud Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth are unable to communicate effectively. Elizabeth gets infuriated at the fact that an arrogant young man named Darcy has slighted her. She overhears Darcy calling her, “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Much of the remaining plot is centered on disclosing the pride and prejudices of this pair, which Jane Austen carefully and skillfully develops.  Later, through her skillful handling of the plot, Jane Austen deftly contrives Jane’s illness at Netherfield Park. This is what gives them a chance to come into closer contact with each other and have observation of each other’s natures and tempraments. Through this, they are better able to evaluate their own feelings. In contrast to his first reaction towards Elizabeth at the ball, Darcy feels that he is attracted by Elizabeth’s fine eyes, her frankness, and her ready wit. On the other hand, the prejudice with which Elizabeth is faced with does not let her feel attracted towards Darcy for what he says or does. Another character, Wickham serves as a contrast to Darcy and diversifies the plot. He, with his misguiding ideas and prejudiced nature, strengthens Elizabeth’s point of view about Darcy. However, when he feels that Elizabeth is not attracted by him, he finally elopes with Lydia.

To reveal the negativity of marriage, the character named Mr. Collins is introduced into the plot. As a sycophant and pompous clergyman, he is also an odd odd combination of ‘servility and self importance’. As a grotesque figure, he is ready to marry anyone at any cost and for any reason. Unfortunately, Charlotte Lucas, who is compelled by economic and social pressures, accepts his proposal but the picture of their married life is a bleak one. On the other hand, the noble Charlotte tries to make compromise with what she is faced with and tries to make her life as pleasant as possible. She tolerates Collins only because of the security which he has offered her through marriage.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a wealthy woman and Collin’s patroness is introduced into the plot. Through her, Jane Austen wants to show that superiority of social class does not necessarily imply superiority of intellect or morality. For all her purported sophistication and snobbery, Lady Catherine is as coarse and vulgar as Mrs. Bennet. She is also Darcy’s aunt, and it is speculated that her nephew will marry her daughter. Every time sheencounters Lady Catherine, she shows her rude, authoritative and domineering nature. She wants to show that she would dictate everyone who is in relation to her.

Further advancement in the plot is meeting between Darcy and Elizabeth. This meeting lets Darcy know that he is in love with this vivacious young lady. Being over confident and cock sure, he proposes to Elizabeth. However, her stormy refusal jolts his prides. He writes in an explanatory letter in which he tries to clarify the two allegations brought against him. Elizabeth gets furious first but later she changes her opinionabout Darcy. She moves away from her prejudice to a more realistic and uncritical viewpoint. At the same time, we see Darcy looking at himself and losing some of his arrogance.

Elizabeth with Gardiners gets a chance to visit Derbyshire where she again comes into contact with Darcy. When both are ready to reconcile, unluckily Lydia elopes with Wickham and Elizabeth has to go to Longbourn. In the end, it is Lydia’s elopement that provides Darcy a chance to prove his worth to Elizabeth. He convinces Wickham to marry Lydia and offers him a large sum of money. When Elizabeth comes to know all this, she realizes her mistake in judging Darcy and hopes for a chance to make things right. Very soon, she gets a chance to have a walk with Darcy. Elizabeth thanks Darcy for all he has done for her family. Darcy replies that he thinks only of her. He proposes her one again and during their walk, they become engaged. Elizabeth then convinces her father that she is not going to marry Darcy for money.

To sum up, the plot introduced by Jane Austen is fully developed and tightly constructed. Its focus is on marriage in various forms. It is the central theme that binds the main plot consisting of Elizabeth Darcy relationship and three sub-plots consisting of Jane and Bingley, Lydia and Wickham and Charlotte and Collins together. That’s why, the natural end of the novel is Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy and Jane’s marriage to Bingley. We see love conquering all-love as well as pride.   We fully agree with the remarks of a critic who opines: No doubt, Jane Austen is a great master in creating plot. Her focus is on how her characters react to events, not on their capacity to cause them. The plot is author driven – according to what Austen wants to say, not what her characters want to do. So unexpected things are continuously happening.”                                                                        (Words: 1291)