Pride and Prejudice

by: Jane Austen

Point of View

Pride and Prejudice is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator. The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters and describes these to the reader. The narrator of the novel also frequently adds commentary about characters and their actions, which shapes the reader’s perception. For example, at the start of the novel the narrator describes Mrs. Bennet as “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.” Although the narrator has access to every character’s interior life, the novel’s events are usually told from Elizabeth’s point of view. Austen also makes use of a narrative strategy known as free indirect discourse. Free indirect discourse takes place when Elizabeth’s thoughts or feelings are presented to the reader without signals like “she thought.” For example, a description of Wickham states that “his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully.” The context of this passage, in which Elizabeth is observing Wickham’s behavior, signals to a reader that this perspective belongs to Elizabeth and therefore is potentially unreliable. At first glance, however, it can seem like it is the narrator who is giving an objective description of Wickham.

Austen’s use of third-person narration and free indirect discourse is important because these devices show that all of the characters, including Elizabeth, frequently make assumptions and errors in judgment. The third-person narrator provides an outside perspective on events, reminding readers that the perceptions of characters may not always be accurate. Free indirect discourse serves the same purpose but in a more subtle way. A major source of conflict for Elizabeth is that she tends to quickly form judgments and then has a difficult time understanding that those judgments could be incorrect. For example, she rushes to the conclusion that Wickham is a good man and that Darcy is a bad man, and it takes her a long time to realize that she has been mistaken. Because free indirect discourse can lead a reader to quickly make a judgment and accept that a statement is true—when it is actually one person’s biased opinion being presented—readers have to learn to avoid the trap of rapidly making assumptions. This learning process parallels the one Elizabeth experiences as she confronts her own prejudices and tendency toward hasty judgments.