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The Complex Mind of Elizabeth Bennet

by Seth Snow

We have learned, and continue to learn, that a person seems to have both conscious and subconscious thoughts.  Conscious thoughts are those thoughts that influence our behavior with our knowing it, whereas subconscious thoughts are those thoughts that influence our behavior without our knowing it.  I will propose that the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice have both conscious and subconscious thoughts, by examining Elizabeth’s conversation with Charlotte Lucas, which occurs early in the novel. While there are other passages in Pride and Prejudice dealing with conscious and subconscious thoughts of characters, I will narrow this discussion to one passage.

Charlotte Lucas, in an early conversation with Elizabeth Bennet about Jane Bennet’s plan to marry Mr. Bingley, suggests that Jane should be more honest and straightforward with her feelings towards Bingley to ensure that she can “secure” him to marry her.  Elizabeth then says to Charlotte, “Your plan is a good one…where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married; and if I were determined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say I should adopt it.  But these are not Jane’s feelings; she is not acting by design”.  Elizabeth, through the word “determined,” is, in her conscious mind, trying to express at least three ideas to Charlotte: Jane’s feelings, her own feelings, and her view of marriage relative to Charlotte’s view of marriage.

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