Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person (Omniscient)
The narration typically stays with Elizabeth, although it occasionally offers us information that Elizabeth isn't aware of (like Charlotte's pursuit of Mr. Collins). This third person view lends a cold dimension to the novel, in the sense that dialogue, opinions, ideas, and events dominate the story rather than emotions. Elizabeth is the exception to this rule—Chapter 36, for example, is devoted entirely to her emotional transformation following her receipt of Darcy's letter. In contrast, even though we do often get to hear the thoughts of others, it's usually in shorter, less complex bursts.
One totally cool feature of the way the book is narrated is Austen's use of a tricky little doo-dad called "free indirect discourse." This is when a character's thoughts or spoken words are reported without quotation marks (or some other kind of indication, like the phrase "she thought" or "he said"). This lets Austen hook the reader into some of Elizabeth's bad judgment. (And the bad judgment of, well, everyone.) How long would we have gone along with Wickham's lies if it weren't for the way every time he gives some long rationalization, Elizabeth's voice pipes up through the narrator? For example, after Wickham spins his sob story, we get this passage:
Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips's supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. (16.58)
It's easy to read this and feel like all the judgments come from straight from the narrator—but read it again and you'll see that all of the praise (that his story is "rational" and "satisfying," and that he's got the kind of face a defense attorney would love) comes straight from our girl Lizzy.
There's one other minor thing we have to mention. At the very end of the book, the narrator speaks in first-person:
I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life. (61.1)
Why do we have "third person (limited omniscient)" up there instead of "first person"? Is this the only time the narrator injects her own perspective—or does her third person turn out to be just as opinionated as her first person?