Escaping the fog of pride and prejudice
The words of the title of Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, shroud the main characters, Elizabeth and Darcy in a fog. The plot of the novel focuses on how Elizabeth and Darcy escape the fog and find each other. Both characters must individually recognize their faults and purge them. At the beginning of the novel, it seems as if the two will never be able to escape the thick fog. The scene at the Netherfield ball makes the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy much more climactic because the pride and prejudice of both increases greatly during the night.
The Netherfield ball is the first time Darcy and Elizabeth dance. When Darcy asks Elizabeth she is so surprised and confused that she says yes to a man who she is determined to hate. At the Meryton ball she had quickly made a sketch of Darcy's character. Compared to Jane who "never [sees] a fault in any body" (11), she doesn't believe only the best in everyone. She is usually right about people. From simply hearing Mr. Collins' letter, she asks if he is a sensible man, which he proves not to be. She is precisely perceptive of everyone except Wikham and Darcy.
At the Meryton ball, Darcy is very reserved. He refuses to dance with Elizabeth when Bingley asks him to, saying that Elizabeth is not handsome enough to tempt him. Elizabeth's pride is hurt and she characterizes Darcy as disagreeable and proud. When Elizabeth first meets Wikham, she is blinded by her prejudice of Darcy as she accepts everything harmful Wikham has to say of Darcy. The plot of the rest of the book revolves around Elizabeth discovering the true nature of both Darcy and Wikham. At the Netherfield ball, it seems this will never happen. From the beginning of the night, when Elizabeth discovers Wikham didn't attend the ball in order to avoid Darcy she "was resolved against any sort of conversation with him" (60). Her hate of Darcy is sharpened, yet when he asks her to dance, she accepts in her confusement.
There is an awkwardness between the two as they start to dance. The conversation is very strained. Then they begin speaking of prejudice. Elizabeth asks Darcy if he "never [allows himself] to be blinded by prejudice" (63). She believes Darcy has made a mistake in resenting Wikham due to his prejudice. Darcy realizes she's making an incorrect sketch of his character. In a gentlemanly manner he decides not to insult Wikham, instead he tells her to postpone "[sketching his] character at the present moment" (63). Finally they both part in silence, each upset with the other. Darcy's dissatisfaction, however, turns into anger towards Wikham. The irony of the conversation is that Elizabeth is the one who is blinded by prejudice.
Elizabeth's prejudice increases as the night goes on. After dancing with Darcy, she encounters Miss Bingley, who attacks Wikham after discovering Elizabeth is "quite delighted with Wikham." Elizabeth doesn't believe a word of it and gives Miss Bingley an angry reply. Elizabeth later hears more news against Wikham from Bingley through conversation with Jane. Again, she disregards it. She doesn't doubt Bingley's sincerity but because he's never met Wikham and has probably received his information about him from Darcy, her delight with Wikham doesn't change. Due to Elizabeth's pride and prejudice, her sketches of Darcy's and Wikham's character are incorrect.
Despite this fallacy, Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth not only because of her "expressive eyes," but mainly due to her wit and good sense. The conflict which needs to be resolved in Darcy is his love for Elizabeth versus his pride which won't allow him to marry into Elizabeth's family, which is at a much lower position on the social ladder. At the Netherfield ball, Darcy's dislike of Elizabeth's family grows.
First, Mr. Collins discovers that Lady Catherine's nephew is present and is intent on introducing himself to Darcy, despite Elizabeth's attempts to dissuade him. Darcy is visibly offended, though Collins never notices. Mrs. Bennet then further embarrasses Elizabeth, who is beginning to see the lack of manner in her family, by bragging to Lady Lucas about her expectations of Jane's future marriage. Darcy's expression changes to a steady gravity while overhearing Mrs. Bennet. Finally, Mary gives an affected and boring singing performance.
The events at the Netherfield ball cause Darcy to convince Bingley to leave Jane and move to London. In addition to Darcy's dislike of the Bennet family, Darcy doesn't believe Jane returns the same feelings as Bingley sends to her. Miss Lucas saw this as a possibility earlier. "If a woman conceals her affection... from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him" (15).
For part of the evening at the Netherfield ball, Elizabeth is trapped with Collins. In the next chapter he proposes to her in a condescending manner. He believes that no woman would refuse him do to his high social position. Yet, Elizabeth does refuse him. Elizabeth is seeking a romantic marriage in which she will respect and love the one she marries. This is in contrast to her friend Charlotte Lucas who only seeks a marriage in which she will advance her social position. Elizabeth doesn't believe Miss Lucas' idea of marriage until she sees an application of it. Miss Lucas accepts a proposal from Collins. The friendship weakens after this because Elizabeth cannot respect her friend's action.
Elizabeth later declines a proposal from Darcy. He proposed, while his pride and love for Elizabeth were still conflicting. His proposal was like Collins', he felt he was giving Elizabeth a great honor. He told her of his struggle to overcome his dislike of Elizabeth's family. The proposal is so unromantic that Elizabeth returns a harsh rejection. This is when Darcy recognizes his pride and begins to purge it. As a truer character is revealed before Elizabeth, she her own prejudice towards him and quickly loses it. The marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy is such a great one because each had to conquer numerable obstacles to be able to accept the other. The Netherfield ball introduced many of the obstacles which made the marriage seem impossible.