Discuss the Use of Irony And Humor in Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Irony presupposes a contrast between appearance and reality. A writer who uses irony is conscious of the incongruity of life. The contrast between illusion and reality, the ideal and the real, the seriousness of the comic virtue and vice become a writer’s immediate concern. The writer seeks to communicate it to the readers as Jane Austen did in Pride and Prejudice.

In simplest terms, irony occurs in literature AND life whenever a person says something or does something that departs from what they (or we) expect them to say or do.

Raymond Malewitz, Associate Professor, Ph.D. English, Oregon State University.

Jane Austen has made effective use of irony in her novels. In Pride and Prejudice, you can find every kind of irony in her style. The irony reveals in the portrayal of every character in the whole story, verbal irony, and the irony of the situation. 

Every kind of folly of affection, self-deception, lack of self-knowledge receives ironical treatment. It has been correctly saying, “her fiction is stupid in irony both of language and situation.”

Austen writes with a keen sense of reality and wants her characters to shed illusion and face reality. The irony is a weapon through which she exposes the modes of human behavior.

Austen constructs her novels with ironic elements, which seems through the very fabric of Pride and Prejudice. The setting of the novel is ironic.

The Irony between Elizabeth And Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

In the beginning, Darcy is proud, and he does not consider Jane as good enough for him, even for a dance. Elizabeth is prejudiced and considers him proud or snobbish. However, ironically, as the story progresses, we notice changes. Darcy tries to prevent his friend Bingley from marrying Jane, but ironically enough, he falls in love with a girl from the same family.

Elizabeth disliked Darcy for his pride, but in the end, she discourses there. She is also the victim of pride in her opinion about others. Even Elizabeth’s attitude reversal towards Darcy maybe ironically related to her visit to Pemberley.

Austen’s Irony Ends up in Comical Consequences

In this novel, everything happens contrary to one’s expectations. The unexpected that happens may sometimes be anticipated and sometimes not desired. However, the unexpected always lead to the desired results in this novel.

Jane Austen’s irony leads to comic consequences, and it does not produce the tragic effect as we find in the novels of Hardy.

The elopement of Lydia with Wickham was supposed to see the prestige of the Bennet family. Still, quite to the contrary, the episode reveals the essential nobility of Darcy, which dispels Elizabeth’s prejudice for her marriage with Darcy.

Austen’s Use of Irony in Portrayal of Characters

The irony is evident in the portrayal of characters; Wickham is handsome, graceful, and refined in his manners. Nevertheless, at heart, he is a villain. He represents the contrast between appearances of reality, as does Darcy.

Darcy is proud of being snobbish but at the same time possesses the nobility of mind.

Jane Austen creates ironic situations in this novel. Collins proposes to Elizabeth when she is infatuated with Wickham, who rejects him at once. Miss Bingley teases Elizabeth for her fascination for Wickham and, in this way, reminds Darcy of the elopement of his sister with him.

Austen’s Use of Verbal Irony in Pride and Prejudice

We have evidence of the use of verbal irony in Pride and Prejudice. Verbal irony is evident in the language with an opposite meaning to the intended. Even dialogues are very Witty and ironic. Mr. Bennet always uses ironic language, even when he talks to his wife on the novel’s very first page. We come across an ironic sentence: 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man or simple man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” 

Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.

The above is Jane Austen’s comment on the husband-hunting campaigns of pods like the Bennets of the Lucases.

Thus Jane Austen’s irony is a means to fight against shame, silliness, pride, snobbery, and prejudice. However, her irony is not bitter or pungent. She rather amuses us by exposing the folly of characters.

Austen Features Humor through Irony in Pride and Prejudice

Humor is an essential feature of Austen’s irony. Her humor is also pleasant and genial. Elizabeth is probably the mouthpiece of Jane Austen when she says,

“I never ridicule what is wise or good, foolish and nonsense, whims, and inconsistencies do divert me, I own of. I laugh at them whenever I can”

Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.

Like Elizabeth, Jane Austen was fascinated by the human character. Her intelligent senses of humor especially enabled her to see the foolishness of nonsense, whims, and inconsistencies as a dispassionate observer of the human virtue of a life of people she portrayed.

Bottom Line

Jane Austen is a dispassionate observer of human virtue. The author finds life full of inconsistencies, and she exposes the inconsistencies of human nature realistically in her wasting.

Austen interprets life ironically, and her interpretation imbibes a moral sense.

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