Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


In a sense, Pride and Prejudice is the story of two courtships—those between Darcy and Elizabeth and between Bingley and Jane. Within this broad structure appear other, smaller courtships: Mr. Collins’s aborted wooing of Elizabeth, followed by his successful wooing of Charlotte Lucas; Miss Bingley’s unsuccessful attempt to attract Darcy; Wickham’s pursuit first of Elizabeth, then of the never-seen Miss King, and finally of Lydia. Courtship therefore takes on a profound, if often unspoken, importance in the novel. Marriage is the ultimate goal, courtship constitutes the real working-out of love. Courtship becomes a sort of forge of a person’s personality, and each courtship becomes a microcosm for different sorts of love (or different ways to abuse love as a means to social advancement).


Nearly every scene in Pride and Prejudice takes place indoors, and the action centers around the Bennet home in the small village of Longbourn. Nevertheless, journeys—even short ones—function repeatedly as catalysts for change in the novel. Elizabeth’s first journey, by which she intends simply to visit Charlotte and Mr. Collins, brings her into contact with Mr. Darcy, and leads to his first proposal. Her second journey takes her to Derby and Pemberley, where she fans the growing flame of her affection for Darcy. The third journey, meanwhile, sends various people in pursuit of Wickham and Lydia, and the journey ends with Darcy tracking them down and saving the Bennet family honor, in the process demonstrating his continued devotion to Elizabeth.

Read more about Jane Austen’s use of journeys in another of her novels, Emma.


Characters' misjudgments of each other based on shallow first impressions drive much of the conflict of the novel. Appropriately, these misjudgments often stem from the characters’ personal pride or societal prejudices. Most notably, of course, Elizabeth bases her understanding of Mr. Darcy on his initial rudeness. Because he has injured her pride, she reads the worst possible interpretation into his every action, mistaking his attraction for scorn, and instantly believing Wickham’s lies. Her misreading of Mr. Darcy’s intentions heightens the romantic tension of the novel, while her trust in Wickham, another poor judgment, brings him closer to the Bennet family, and therefore Lydia.

Mr. Darcy misjudges Jane’s feelings toward Mr. Bingley based on the way the Bennet family’s behavior bolsters his class-based prejudices, leading him to mistake Jane’s shyness for a cold disinterest in Mr. Bingley as a person. His discouragement of the match deepens the rift between him and Elizabeth. However, not only the protagonists demonstrate these lapses in judgment. Mr. Collins, for example, pridefully assumes that his financial security will be enough to woo Elizabeth. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, clouded by both pride and prejudice, does not recognize that it is Mr. Darcy, not Elizabeth, who has initiated their courtship.