The attainment of self-knowledge on the part of the central figures is always Jane Austen’s theme, and self-knowledge results in goodness. Thus, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth gradually discovers the truth and sheds her prejudices en route a love journey both humorous and deeply serious moods. She has been proud of her discernment but she finds that she has been wrong in judging both Darcy and Wickham. By the end, she realizes her folly and her prejudice. Life for her is thus a continuous process of increasing self-knowledge.
Pride and Prejudice portrays two remarkable characters with which generations of readers have fallen in love: Elizabeth Bennet, the talented, independent second daughter, and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a haughty aristocrat who sees through Mrs. Bennet's manipulations and believes the Bennet family to be beneath him. In turn, Elizabeth develops a blinding prejudice against Darcy and puts him down as no one has dared before. Their relationship—a combination of attraction and contempt—is certainly one of the most exciting in all literature.
Experience teaches us how to live wisely and temperately and so also through harmony with the rest of the world. Jane Austen was a religious woman, but religion is not an active element in the life she portrays. Her morality is not transcendental; she is an idealist but a practical idealist. In her view human beings have a duty to perform to themselves and to others, and it is only by performing this duty that true happiness can be achieved.
Through Elizabeth’s vivid character, Pride and Prejudice contrasts many human qualities: depth and superficiality; honesty and dishonesty; pride and humility; independence and dependence. Elizabeth does not sentimentalize love, she does not glorify it like earlier heroine, but her conception of a genuine union is a loftier one than theirs. She is a practical idealist. She realizes the value of money and comfortable living for a happy marriage, she has no illusions about, “love ma cottage” but she also realizes that married happiness depends not so much on worldly circumstances as on mutual harmony between the marriage partners. Similarly, she recognizes the presence of evil, and tolerates it. Wickham is not even reformed by the end of the novel, and Lydia remains as silly and irresponsible as ever. The novelist is reputed to have considered Elizabeth Bennet her favorite creation. Indeed, the twenty-year-old possesses brains, beauty, musical talent, confidence, and—for the era—rare independence. At every turn Elizabeth displays the latter trait: she walks several miles alone to visit her ailing sister Jane at Netherfield; she declines Mr. Collins's marriage offer despite her mother's outrage; she angrily rejects Darcy's condescending proposal in the novel's most stunning scene. But this independence—perhaps inherited from her mother—leads her to make mistakes: she judges Wickham, Darcy, and others too soon, and then clings stubbornly to her prejudices.