Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pride and Prejudice: Stages of Inquiry

Following the Well-Educated Mind, these are my notes for
Pride and Prejudice * Jane Austen
Three Stages of Inquiry Questions

First level of inquiry:

These are the summaries posted to and running on my blog.

What is the book’s most important event?  When does the character change?

Elizabeth changes after she refuses Mr. Darcy’s proposal and then receives a thorough letter from him explaining and defending himself on and from all accusations made by her regarding Jane and Bingley and Mr. Wickham.  The reader can see the developing but definite progress Elizabeth makes from first realizing that she did not have all of the facts on Mr. Wickham to finally being able to see events from someone else’s perspective, such as she did with Mr. Darcy and how he saw Jane’s indifference towards Mr. Bingley and that he was concerned only for his friend’s heart. 
Second level of inquiry:

What is the author trying to convince you of?  What evidence does she give you for believing this argument?  

I believe the author is trying to warn us of our prejudices towards others before we have all of the information to make a judgment or form an opinion especially of others.  Often, it is our own pride that blinds us from being able to see truth. 

Evidence of this is in Elizabeth and her mother and many of the other characters in town that automatically prejudge Mr. Darcy as prideful because of his reserved behavior at the ball in addition to his wealthy status.  It isn’t until Elizabeth gets to know him on a more intimate level that reveals his shyness or embarrassment around people he does not know well.

And yet, when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, it is pride he displays when he assumes that Elizabeth should accept him simply because of his wealth and status.

What does central character want?  What is standing in his or her way?  What strategy does she pursue in order to overcome this block?  

Elizabeth is so full of pride that she is blind as a bat!  She trusts no one, and I suppose to remedy that, she wants to protect herself from ever being duped or wronged or hurt.  So she prejudges everyone, if they are  the least unfavorable towards her, and she puts up a barrier around herself.  She wants to always be right and leaves no room for changes, unlike her sister Jane.

The problem is, because of her blindness, she cannot readily see the truth, and she misses opportunities to know someone for who they really are, even Wickham.  She can appear really conceited and spiteful in her words and her actions, as she did toward Darcy even while he was polite to her.

I don’t think she meant to use any strategy to overcome her barrier, but it happened unexpectedly for her when she was forced to see the truth in Darcy’s letter that she had been prejudice towards him because of what she had wrongly believed to be right. 

What style does the writer employ?  The author uses a very complex and thorough style. It is almost as doing logic problems or reading Latin.  I found myself thinking about every sentence and having to decipher its meaning.

Images and metaphors?  I actually had to research this: Marriage and dancing continues to come up.  Being asked to dance seems to be the equivalent to being proposed to or actually signing a marriage contract.  Remember how personal the women took Mr. Darcy’s rejection to dance at the first ball?  How offensive!  But when Mr. Darcy did ask Elizabeth to dance at the second ball, she was beside herself that she said yes to him.  And she was also incensed that she had to agree to dance with Mr. Collins at that same ball.  (It’s not the end of the world…it’s just a dance.)

Beginning and ending?  Is it resolution (no further event can take place), or is it logical exhaustion (infinite repetition)?  Do you agree? 

The author takes you immediately into the urgent idea of the story, marrying well, with the arrival of a wealthy prospect to the neighborhood and the civil formalities of the time to wait on the gentlemen and make an acquaintance with the hope of making his daughters available to him. 

And the author ends the story in resolution settling every character around the marriages of Mr. Bingley and Jane and Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.  Each character is getting on with his life, and most of them are doing so in a happy fashion.  It is a Happily Ever After story.  No more changes need to take place.

Third Level of Inquiry:

Is this story an accurate portrayal of life?  Is it true?  (What are people like?  What shapes them?  Are we free, or are we restricted by something?)

Yes, yes!  I completely agree.  How easily we are caught up in our prejudices because of our own pride, especially concerning social status.

It takes place at all levels of the socioeconomic ladder.  Class warfare is very real, and it is fueled by our greedy desires of “self.”  Lower classes desire to take from the rich to redistribute elsewhere, even if that distribution never makes a difference in their own lives, because they have predetermined idea that the rich are well-off enough; and, yet, even those who are able to be charitable, live worlds apart from the very people they help because there is a wall of status that separates them from having to connect personally. 

In a way, we all have the potential to be rather snobby because of our self-pride to feel better about ourselves by making someone less than what he is.  We can be restricted by our greed, self-regard, and self-importance before we truly get to know why someone behaves the way they do.

When I was in college, my architecture professor taught us to always find out why someone does what they do in order to learn more about someone.  Get to the very core of their behavior. 

In this case, Elizabeth had to get to know Mr. Darcy to understand that her first impression of him appearing arrogant was prevented by her lack of knowledge that he is quite uncomfortable or introverted around people he is not familiar with.

Is there an argument in this book?  What is the idea?  Do you agree?  Is the book true?

Absolutely!  First, we need to remove pride from our heart - that desire to protect ourselves from being offended causing us to invent prejudices - and “leave room for change,” as the author describes Jane Bennet’s disposition on people.  We don’t know all the facts about someone; maybe we should get to  know someone better before we agree with gossip or take our first impression to heart.  


  1. Ruth -- You are going to blow right past us any minute now!

    I'm amazed at your focus. I'm going to have to stop lolly-gagging. You're giving me some positive peer pressure!


  2. Well, if I can catch up, I won't pass you guys.

    1. BTW, I just finished watching P&P 2005, which I did enjoy, but a friend of mine is loaning me the 1985(?) one tomorrow, and she said it is far better; so I'll be watching that for several days when I can.

  3. I agree with all you've stated here... and I also was a little confused or perhaps surprised at the significance placed upon accepting a dance!

    1. That was rather funny, but then they would be so offended if they saw our dances today!