A Psychological Analysis on the Characterization of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice


科技视界 2016年20期


【Abstract】Elizabeth, the heroine in Pride and Prejudice is generally considered to be an independent and subversive woman, who seeks her happiness regardless of the social class. This paper tries to prove Elizabeth is the dependent of the upper class based on the psychological approach.

【Key words】Elizabeth; Character; Psychological approach; Social class; Dependent


Pride and Prejudice, which has been well-received since its publication in the early 19th century has attracted many critics attention through ages. The novel centers on Elizabeths attempts to find love and happiness within the society she lives in, particularly concerning her relationship with the apparently cold, proud and distant Darcy. The reviews on this novel were many . However, among the numerous reviews on this novel, the main concern is focusing on the appreciation of the characterization of the heroine Elizabeth.

In many critics eyes, Elizabeth is a courageous woman; she does not crave for wealth or attach herself to the dignitaries. She is brave enough to seek her ideal marriage without considering social norm. She “does not permit her ‘will to be dictated to by another, and she will never admit the submissive role traditionally ascribed to women.”[1]Anonymous critic in British Critic said that Elizabeths sense and conduct are of a superior order to those of the common heroines of novels: “Her independence of character, which is kept within the proper line of decorum, and her well-timed sprightliness, she teaches the man of Family-Pride to know himself.” [2]

2Analysis on the Characterization of Elizabeth

2.1Elizabeths feelings of Shame about her family

Elizabeth seems to be confident at first glance; actually it is quite the contrary. When she faced the aristocrats, she frequently felt inferior, which manifests itself in Elizabeths recurrent feelings of shame about her family. Austens description of the Netherfield ball shows us a vivid picture of Elizabeths torment by her shame and embarrassment. Elizabeths two first dances with Mr. Collins were “dances of mortification”; Mr. Collinss awkward and often wrong moving gave Elizabeth “all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy.”[3] At dinner, Elizabeth was angry about finding that her mother was talking to Lady Lucas freely and openly about her expectation for the union of Jane and Mr. Bingley. Unable to prevent her mother from speaking in a lower voice, Elizabeth “blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.”[3] When supper was over, Mary performed a terrible song for the company. Elizabeth “had the mortification of seeing Mary…Elizabeths eyes were fixed on her with most painful sensations…her voice was weak, and her manner affected—Elizabeth was in agonies.” [3]Elizabeths continuous blush betrayed her shame. She feels that her family has completely embarrassed itself.

In chapter1 Volume3, when Elizabeth saw Darcy had a conversation with her uncle Mr. Gardiner, she thought: “It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there were no need to blush.” [3]

Elizabeths reactions were completely different when she got along with the middle-class people and with the aristocracy. Facing with the middle-class people, she paid little attention to her family members manners, so she seemed to be more relaxed. While when she was with the aristocracy, she was always felt ashamed and uneasy.

2.2Elizabeth, a Dependent of the Aristocracy

Elizabeths shame originated from her feelings of inferiority, which suggests that she hold the same value concept with the aristocrats. From her innermost heart, she still yearned for the life of the upper-class people, and she wanted to depend on the aristocrats. This could be seen from her unusual behavior after she refused Darcys first proposal. Before Darcys proposal, Elizabeths main preoccupation with Darcy was dislike. She thought he is too arrogant and believed that it is Darcy who disinherited Wickham and messed up the romance between Jane and Bingley. She had sufficient reasons to hate Darcy, so the rejection of the proposal from such an awful man should have been the most natural thing in the world according to the common sense. She should have felt relax and calm after getting rid of Darcy. However, the result is completely different: Elizabeth shows her sympathy towards Darcy: she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive. As readers, we cant help asking that can ones hatred for a person who wounded ones own self-esteem and ones dear sister be dispelled. Whats more incomprehensible is that after Darcy left, Elizabeth cried for this man whom she thought she didnt care.

It is very strange that Elizabeth, a girl who is optimistic and strong-minded, behaved like this. Does Elizabeth conceal her true feelings for herself? We could see from the novel that Darcys status in Elizabeths heart is higher than she acknowledged. She already considered Darcy as an outstanding person. Elizabeth should have been satisfied to gain Darcys strong affection, if Darcy wasnt the man who wounded her self-esteem by his abominable pride. She cant accept Darcys proposal, but her rejection made her feel regret. Thats why she struggled in her heart. Darcy can occupy Elizabeths heart; apparently it is not on account of his good character: at that time, Elizabeth had enough reasons to doubt his moral behavior; but if it is not for this reason, then it can only due to his handsome appearance and his noble status which she always contemptuously snorted. Thus, Elizabeth astonished by Darcys proposal. Elizabeth appeared to despise the social hierarchy, but in fact, she cant get rid of the worldly concept. It is not easy for an 18th century young lady to abandon completely the concept of social rank.


Elizabeths prejudice is a defense against her feelings of inferiority and shame, her vulnerable pride has driven her to be defensively prejudiced. She is the dependent of the upper class. From the above analysis on the characterization of Elizabeth, a conclusion can be drawn that social and cultural conditions have great influence on the formation of mans personality: in the 18th century England, it is hard for a woman without property to get rid of the fetters of the worldly concept, no matter how outstanding the woman is or how hard she tries. Elizabeth is no exception: she made compromise to the social concept; she complied with Darcys status and accepted Darcys money, which guaranteed their marriage. Austen seems to advocate the ideal marriage that Elizabeth consistently sought: marriage based on love. However, in Elizabeths process of seeking husband, with the development of her character, Elizabeth paid more and more consideration on the material factors.

Austen portrayed Elizabeth as a girl who dared to despise the social norms, but the development of the character of Elizabeth and the ending tell us an 18th century young lady will never succeed in escaping the social norms. This is the way for Austen to present the reality: she let her seemingly subversive heroine conformed to the reality, and at the same time criticized reality.


[1]Hardy, J. Jane Austens Heroines[M].London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,1984.

[2]Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice[M].青岛:青岛出版社,2004.


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