The first chapter consists almost entirely of dialogue, a typical instance of Austen’s technique of using the manner in which characters express themselves to reveal their traits and attitudes. Its last paragraph, in which the narrator describes Mr. Bennet as a “mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice,” and his wife as “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper,” simply confirms the character assessments that the reader has already made based on their conversation: Mrs. Bennett embodies ill breeding and is prone to monotone hysteria; Mr. Bennet is a wit who retreats from his wife’s overly serious demeanor. There is little physical description of the characters in Pride and Prejudice, so the reader’s perception of them is shaped largely by their words. Darcy makes the importance of the verbal explicit at the end of the novel when he tells Elizabeth that he was first attracted to her by “the liveliness of [her] mind.”
The ball at Meryton is important to the structure of the novel since it brings the two couples—Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane—together for the first time. Austen’s original title for the novel was First Impressions, and these individuals’ first impressions at the ball initiate the contrasting patterns of the two principal male-female relationships. The relative effortlessness with which Bingley and Jane interact is indicative of their easygoing natures; the obstacles that the novel places in the way of their happiness are in no way caused by Jane or Bingley themselves. Indeed, their feelings for one another seem to change little after the initial attraction—there is no development of their love, only the delay of its consummation. Darcy’s bad behavior, on the other hand, immediately betrays the pride and sense of social superiority that will most hinder him from finding his way to Elizabeth. His snub of her creates a mutual dislike, in contrast to the mutual attraction between Jane and Bingley. Further, while Darcy’s opinion of Elizabeth changes within a few chapters, her (and the reader’s) sense of him as self-important and arrogant remains unaltered until midway through the novel.