Irony in Pride and Prejudice

Irony in Pride and Prejudice

The irony is a literary device that an author uses to create a contrast between appearance and reality. It is used to say or do something opposite to reality. Jane Austen uses irony very efficiently not only in her novel Pride and Prejudice but also in other novels. She uses all three kinds of ironies: verbal, dramatic and situational. Mostly, a character says something that differs from his actual meaning, which we should call verbal irony. In the second type of irony, something happens with a character but he remains totally unaware of it. Thirdly, situational irony is a kind in which something happens entirely opposite to expectations. 

Every writer uses this literary technique from his own perspective. Jane Austen has a strong grip on this technique; therefore, she freely uses it. She is one of those writers, who uses irony, not for the purpose of reformation but to create amusement in the narration for their readers and for moral purposes. Jane Austen uses this technique very skillfully, so much so that most of the dialogues of the characters are ironic. In fact, it is the most discussed unique attribute of Jane Austen’s writing style. She uses it to give a certain kind of pleasure to her readers. Apparently, the readers expect something from the circumstances but something opposite happens. There is also irony in the themes of Pride and Prejudice. She also uses this technique to create satire.  

Situational Irony in Pride and Prejudice

The book starts with an ironic statement that the writer willfully writes. The writer writes: 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Jane Austen

Apparently, the writer is of the view that a single man who has good fortune looks for a wife but soon the readers feel the opposite situation. The story of the novel starts with the Bennet family. Mrs Bennet looks for young bachelors for her daughters. Not only the Bennet family but also the Lucas family is looking for a good husband for Charlotte Lucas. So, there is a competition between the two families for finding the best young man for their daughters. 

Thus, the situation is entirely opposite to what the writer writes at the start of the novel. It is not the young men who look for wives but the women who look for husbands. As the story progresses, this fact strengthens its position and the readers realise the irony of the situation in Pride and Prejudice.

Similarly, Mr Darcy makes an opinion when he first sees Elizabeth Bennet:

She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.

Mr Darcy

Soon Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennet, which she rejects. It is also ironic that he says something else but does the opposite which is a kind of irony to increase the interest of the readers. Likewise, Elizabeth rejects the proposal of Mr Collins while saying that she is not the girl who first rejects the proposal and then accepts it the second time. On another occasion, she says that she cannot change her mind once she makes a decision. However, she rejects Mr Darcy’s first proposal but subsequently, she accepts it. Thus, she does the opposite, which is evidence that Jane Austen uses irony in Pride and Prejudice.

Irony of Narration In Pride and Prejudice

In addition, there is irony in the narration of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen writes about Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst:

They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.

Jane Austen

Nonetheless, the ladies fail to prove themselves very fine ladies in the whole novel. Every time we make an acquaintance with them, they prove themselves proud and selfish ladies. Even when Elizabeth visits them at the time when Jane becomes ill, they prove their snobbery. 

Irony of Character

Elizabeth thinks that Mr Darcy is the proudest man in the world but she is proved proudy too. It is not Mr Darcy who is prejudiced but Elizabeth herself. She realises her mistake in the novel and the writer makes the irony of this character apparent to her readers. Similarly, Mr Wickham seems a gentleman; everyone praises him. Mr Bennet says about him:

He is as fine a fellow,’ said Mr. Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house, ‘as ever I saw. He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all. I am prodigiously proud of him. 

Mr Bennet

Afterwards, Mr Wickham proves to be a wicked person. Thus, it is a fine example of irony in these lines that Mr Bennet says about Mr Wickham.

In fact, every character in the novel somewhere seems ironic. Lydia takes such steps that were not expected from her. Nowhere in the novel, it is expected that Lydia will elope with Mr Wickham to ruin the reputation of the Bennet family. Elizabeth also does the opposite of expectations. Mr Darcy always declares himself a gentleman but does such acts that are not expected from a gentleman. He proposes to Elizabeth ungentlemanly. Moreover, it was not expected that Mr Darcy was behind saving the dignity of the Bennet family by forcing Mr Wickham to marry Lydia. Thus, there are many characters in the novel that proves that Jane Austen uses the irony of character too in Pride and Prejudice.

Preaching Morality through Irony

It is also said that Jane Austen uses irony for the purpose of moral vision despite the fact that critics criticise Jane Austen’s limited range. She portrays messages through this literary instrument. For instance, she rejects the idea of marrying on the basis of physical appearance. She is also against affectionless marriages. Jane Austen illustrates the theme of love and marriage in Pride and Prejudice, through which she presents four marriages; two are based on love whereas two are on compromises. Jane Austen also uses irony to show the absurdities of humans to them; however, she parted from other writers as she is not cynical like most of the writers who use irony in their literary work. In short, it is true that Jane Austen skillfully uses irony in Pride and Prejudice for moral purposes.