Pride and Prejudice is a novel written in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s by Jane Austen. At this time period there was also a rise of the “Second British Empire”. “Austen wrote it at a time when there was the rise of the “Second British Empire,” and was one of the first authors to ever divulge into the writing possibilities of a topic such as Post Colonialism” (Brant, British Colonization). Pride and Prejudice however explores several other literary theories aside from Post Colonialism (notably Feminism, Marxism and Realism).
Post Colonialism is the aftermath of colonization and is viewed as one of the most comprehensive literary theories for this novel. Post Colonialism is a vital aspect of the novel as it demonstrates the significance of wealth and social status and also reveals social hierarchy in which the roles of men dominate over that of women. Reading the novel while applying the literary theory of Post Colonialism clearly demonstrates the importance of which first impressions are meant to reflect the Post Colonial society in which the story is situated in.
The first occurrence in which we see first impressions used to reflect the Post Colonialism society that novel takes place in is during the ball at Meryton. The ball plays a significant role in the novel as it brings two couples together, namely Mr. Darcy and Ms. Elizabeth, as well as Mr. Bingley and Ms. Jane) together for the first time. It is at this time and place that Mrs. Bennett makes her first impressions of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, both who possess great wealth and power. As expected, Mrs. Bennett living in a Post Colonialism society thinks astonishingly high of them, despite not even speaking a word to them. Mrs. Bennett thinks of them to be exceptional and noteworthy young men. During the course of the ball however, it is learned that Mrs. Bennett’s perspective of Mr. Darcy quickly becomes bitter. Mrs. Bennett had hoped that Mr. Darcy would be able to “colonize”, so to speak, one of her daughters allowing them to prosperous, wealthy life but we see that she does not think the same when we read, “[Mr. Darcy] was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by having slighted one of her daughters” (Page 8, Pride and Prejudice).
As mentioned earlier, the ball at Meryton plays a vital role in the structure of the novel. Another example of those that meet for the first time and make first impressions are Mr. Darcy and Ms. Elizabeth. “‘Which do you mean?’ and turning round, [Mr. Darcy] looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable; but no handsome enough to tempt me’” (Page 8, Pride and Prejudice). Mr. Darcy’s seemingly rude behaviour towards Ms. Elizabeth in combination with his failure to associate with her results in an immediate dislike for one another this instantaneously holds him back from finding his way to Ms. Elizabeth later on in the novel. However, Mr. Darcy’s judgment of Ms. Elizabeth changes throughout the chapters that follow shortly but her sense of him as “self-important” and “arrogant” remains the same until halfway through the novel Pride and Prejudice. In this situation, Mr. Darcy symbolizes a dominant nation that has yet to completely colonize but is showing progress and is described through Mr. Darcy’s lust for Ms. Elizabeth’s love. One may not view this as a strong example of Post Colonialism as the love that unfolds between Mr. Darcy and Ms. Elizabeth is true and pure in its fundamental nature as it is neither about Mr. Darcy’s status nor his wealth. Despite Ms. Elizabeth’s initial impressions of Mr. Darcy is that he is a man who was rich in status and in wealth, she eventually is able to look past his material and social benefits and into his personality instead. This was where we are able to see the literary theory of Post Colonialism be applied between Mr. Darcy and Ms. Elizabeth and how it ties in with first impressions in the novel. Even though the love between them is true and pure in its essence, we can see that Mr. Darcy is somewhat “colonizing”, so to speak, Ms. Elizabeth as she symbolizes a low member of the society and in doing so creates the ascent of her power, social status and wealth.
The other main arrangements of characters who meet at the ball at Meryton are Mr. Bingley and Ms. Jane. Throughout the course of the ball, Mr. Bingley and Ms. Jane get along well as if they were perfectly compatible. “Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice” (Page 9, Pride and Prejudice). They interact effortlessly and this can likely be traced to their laid-back attitude; Mr. Bingley and Ms. Jane in no way cause the obstacles in which the novel places in the way of their happiness. It’s noted that their feelings for one another seem to change at the smallest of magnitudes and a conclusion is reached that there is no development of love, but only the delay of its consummation. In this scenario, Mr. Bingley would represent the powerful nation if we apply the literary theory of Post Colonialism as he is professed of great wealth and status. As a result, Ms. Jane becomes “colonized” as she essentially has a desire for wealth. Smaller countries favour to be colonized by a larger and more powerful country as it allows for their independency along with increases in both status and wealth, and also flourishing growth under the rule of a mother country. Thus, as Jane is attracted to Mr. Bingley’s wealth, it becomes clear that there is a direct correlation to the process of being colonized. This is where one can see a clear example of the Post Colonial aspect of Ms. Jane’s first impression of Mr. Bingley.
It may appear bizarre to compare people to countries, but in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice we see that this is entirely applicable. During the time era in which Pride and Prejudice was written, the difference in social classes was so extensive that there was no “in between class”, and this difference was also present between mother countries and un-colonized regions. They either were, or were not; either black or white, no shade of grey. It is quite apparent that throughout the course of this novel, the theory of first impressions plays a vital role in outlining the Post Colonial aspects of the society at the present time. The encounters at the Meryton ball in Pride and Prejudice are examples of Post Colonialism, as well as how first impressions are closely related to this literary theory.