“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
At least that’s what George Benard Shaw had to say on the matter. Jane Austen might agree, at least in part. Austen was more than a little interested in the theme of communication when she wrote her novel Pride & Prejudice.
But, let me back up a second and tell you why I’m thinking about Pride & Prejudice. It’s not because I’m retaking sophomore English. I passed with a solid C, thank you very much! My wife and I, having never read the book, decided to read it together, and discuss it as we go. You know, communicate with each other.
And Austen has a lot to say about communication. As a theme, communication is illustrated through a character-driven plot where most of the conflict derives from simple miscommunications. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these character arcs, and how communication is at the heart of each.
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Effective communication is paramount to social and emotional well-being.“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”- George Bernard Shaw Click To Tweet
Mr. Darcy- the indifferent communicator
I’m going to start with Darcy because he’s the least communicative and he suffers the most for it. When Darcy first arrives in Meryton, everyone naturally compares him to his traveling partner Mr. Bingley. Where Darcy is quiet and sullen, Bingley is witty and engaging. Darcy is perceived to be arrogant, even haughty. Most of the village, including Lizzie, develop a negative opinion of Darcy and harbor that opinion throughout the novel.
The conflict occurs with Darcy falls for Lizzie. His indifference towards his reputation allows Mr. Wickham to spread false rumors about Darcy. Because Darcy is such a poor communicator when he decides to propose to Lizzie she is confused having never guessed at his interest. Even worse, her opinion of Darcy has already been tainted by the deceptive Mr. Wickham.
Through Darcy, Austen teaches us that your reputation is important. Because of his wealth, Darcy is somewhat insulated from the rules and norms of society. And, although these norms can and should be circumvented from time to time, they cant be completely ignored. Darcy finds that his indifference towards polite society costs him something that money cannot buy- the love of the charming Elizabeth Bennet.
Mr. Wickham- the deceptive communicator
Like Bingley, Wickham can deftly navigate the polite society of Meryton. He’s so charming that he can outshine Darcy who is Wickham’s superior in both wealth and social hierarchy. Unlike Bingley, Wickham’s charm is not authentic. Wickham always has an ulterior motive. With Lizzie, Wickham is successful in injuring Darcy’s character. With Darcy’s sister, Wickham manipulates her emotions in order to extract money from Darcy.
Wickham may be charming, but he is a liar. When he is found out by the Bennet’s his credibility is destroyed. His ultimate goal is to acquire wealth through marriage, and he envies Darcy’s money. However, Wickham is forced to marry Lydia Bennet- who he doesn’t love- and only manages to have Darcy pay off his mounting debts.
In Wickham’s arc, we learn that charm can get you far in society, even above your station. However, a deceptive communicator will ultimately be buried by the truth.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh- the blunt communicator
Like Darcy, Lady Catherine has spent her life relatively insulated from society by the benefit of her wealth. She has not had to jockey for her position, and she’s not concerned about other’s opinion. The narrator tells us Lady Catherine delivers, “her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not used to have her judgement controverted.”
That is until she runs up against Elizabeth Bennet. You see, Lady Catherine has staked out Mr. Darcy as a proper match for her daughter. Her only stumbling block is that Darcy has already declared his love for Lizzie. When Lady Catherine confronts Lizzie and tells her to bow out gracefully she uses the only tactic she knows- brute force. She demands Lizzie back off of Darcy, but Lizzie declines to back down, and we all know how the story ends.
When faced with true opposition, Lady Catherine has no recourse, no way to get what she wants. Her form of communication is only successful when she surrounds herself with those who benefit from her social standing.
Elizbeth Bennet- the effective communicator
Now, I’m not saying that Lizzie is the perfect communicator only that she is one of the few effective communicators in the novel. Let’s look at how she interacts with the characters listed above. During her first encounter with Darcy, she overhears him insulting her appearance. After that, she has a reasonable distaste for Darcy. Despite her dislike for Darcy, she is still polite and charming enough towards him that he falls in love with her. He loves her not because she goes out of her way to impress him, but because she is a genuine and kind person.
Lizzie operates well within society and doesn’t allow her early disdain for Darcy to taint her behavior towards him. However, she is willing to buck society when she sees fit. When confronted by Lady Catherine, Lizzie is not intimidated by Catherine’s position. Lizzie is polite but speaks her mind. She makes her feelings known but does not go out of her way to hurt others.
As a result of her polite assertiveness, Lizzie finds love and fortune. Plus, she gets to live in Pemberley Manor and let’s be honest…
that’s the real prize. Sorry, Darcy.
What do you think about Elizabeth and Darcy? Are they a good couple? Do you vehemently disagree with a point I’ve made? Let me know in the comments.
Pride & Prejudice Themes– Schmoop.com