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 serious of the comic virtue and vice become a writer’s immediate concern he seeks to communicate it to the readers.
Jane Austen has made effective use of irony in her novels. In Pride and Prejudice, in her style, in the portrayal of every character in the whole story, verbal irony, irony of situation, irony of character and almost every kind of irony is found. Every kind of folly of affection, self-deception, lack of self-knowledge, receives ironical treatment. It has been correctly said, “her fiction is stupid in irony both of language and situation.” Jane Austen writes with a keen sense of reality and wants her characters to shed illusion and face reality. Irony is a weapon through which she exposes the modes of human behavior.
Jane Austen’s novels are constructed with the ironic elements and irony seems through the very fabric of Pride and Prejudice. The setting of the novel is ironical. In the beginning, Darcy is proud and he doesn’t consider Jane as good enough for him even for a dance. Elizabeth is prejudiced and considers him proud or snobbish. But ironically as the story progresses, we notice changes. Darcy tried to prevent his friend Bingley from marrying Jane but ironically enough he himself falls in love with a girl of the same family. Elizabeth disliked Darcy for his pride, but at the end, she discourses there. She is also the victim of pride in her opinion about others. Even the reversal of the attitude of Elizabeth towards Darcy may be ironically linked up with her visit to Pemberley. In this novel, everything happens contrary to one’s expectations. The unexpected that happens may sometimes be anticipated and sometimes not desired. But in this novel, it is always the unexpected that leads to the desired results. Jane Austen’s irony leads to comic consequences and it doesn’t 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, but quite contrary, the episode reveals the essential nobility of Darcy which dispels Elizabeth’s prejudice for her marriage with Darcy.
Irony is evident in the portrayal of characters; Wickham is handsome, graceful and refined in his manners. But at heart, he is a villain. He represents the contrast between appearances of reality as does Darcy. He appears to be proud of snobbish but at the same time possesses the nobility of mind.
Ironical Situations are created by Jane Austen in this novel. Collins proposes to Elizabeth at a moment when she is infatuated with Wickham and he is at once rejected. Miss Bingley teases Elizabeth for her fascination for Wickham and in this way reminds Darcy of the elopement of his own sister with him.
We have evidence of the use of verbal irony in Pride and Prejudice.Verbal irony is created in the use of the language with a meaning opposite to what is intended. Even dialogues are very Witty and ironical. Mr. Bennet always uses ironical language, even when he talks to his wife in the very first page of the novel; we come across an ironical sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man or simple man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This is Jane Austen’s comment on the husband-hunting campaigns of pod like the Bennets of the Lucases.
Thus Jane Austen’s irony is a means in her hand to fight against shame, silliness, pride snobbery and prejudice. But her irony is not bitter or pungent. She rather amuses us by exposing the folly of characters. Humor is an essential feature of her irony. Jane Austen’s 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” (Chapter 2). Like Elizabeth, Jane Austen was fascinated by human character. Her intelligent senses of humor especially enabled her to see the foolish of nonsense, whims, and inconsistencies as a dispassionate observer of the human virtue of life of people she portrayed. Jane Austen is a dispassionate observer of human virtue. Jane Austen finds life full of inconsistencies and she exposes the inconsistencies of human nature realistically in her wasting. She interprets life ironically and her interpretation imbibes a moral sense.