The plot of Pride and Prejudice follows a linear, chronological structure. Elizabeth Bennet is the protagonist, and the major conflict revolves around her struggle to find a compatible husband despite the obstacles presented by both social conventions and her own lack of self-awareness. She encounters a number of antagonists who create obstacles between her and a happy marriage. These antagonists can be classified into two groups. The first are the characters who threaten Elizabeth’s future happiness by trying to persuade her to marry the wrong man. They include Mrs. Bennet (who does not understand the kind of marriage her daughter wants and thinks Elizabeth should lower her standards) and Mr. Collins (who tries to convince Elizabeth to accept a marriage that would never satisfy her). The second group of antagonists are the characters who try to prevent Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy, notably Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. There are times when Elizabeth functions as her own antagonist. Her stubbornness and inability to understand that Darcy would be a good match for her move her further away from her goal of happiness, rather than toward it.
The main plot of Elizabeth’s path to marriage intersects closely with subplots focused on the love lives of other female characters. The plot structure is also shaped by its division into volumes. Pride and Prejudice was initially published in three volumes. In the first volume, the initial events of the plot focus on Jane’s attraction to Bingley, with Elizabeth’s interactions with Darcy and his gradual attraction to her functioning as secondary incidents. The major conflict in this first section of the novel centers on whether Jane and Bingley will be able to marry, since Darcy and Bingley’s sisters seem determined to keep them apart. Another conflict arises when Mr. Collins begins pursuing Elizabeth, and she is forced to reject him. These two initial conflicts are given some resolution at the end of the first volume, when Mr. Collins finally accepts defeat and marries Charlotte Lucas, and the Bingley family leaves Netherfield to return to London. This moment in the plot marks a low point, as it appears as though neither Bennet sister has much chance of getting married and that most people marry for money and status.
The plot rises again with a new focus on the possibility of a match between Elizabeth and Darcy. Elizabeth’s visit to Charlotte and Mr. Collins creates a new opportunity for her to interact with Mr. Darcy, leading him to propose to her. This proposal occurs approximately in the middle of the story and represents the climax of the attraction Darcy has been trying to resist ever since he first met Elizabeth. Her rejection of his proposal parallels her previous rejection of Mr. Collins. At this point, Elizabeth believes that Darcy is a bad person, and she will not accept a marriage to a man she does not love, no matter what he might offer her. However, the plotline of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship increases in intensity after she rejects him. The rejected proposal leads him to reveal new information that makes her question her perception of him. The unfolding plot of growing affection between Darcy and Elizabeth is interrupted by a new conflict: Lydia’s elopement. This conflict dominates the novel’s plot until its resolution.
Once Lydia’s plotline is resolved with her respectable marriage, the focus shifts to a return to Jane’s storyline. Reunited with Bingley, she quickly becomes engaged, resolving the conflict that has been ongoing since the novel’s start. All that remains is a final conflict to be overcome in the form of Lady de Bourgh’s attempt to prevent Elizabeth from marrying Darcy. The earlier plot events where Elizabeth stood her ground have prepared her for this moment, and she refuses to back down. With the characters having finally overcome all the obstacles in their way, the novel’s climax takes place when Darcy proposes a second time and Elizabeth accepts him. The climax is followed by some brief falling action, including the preparations for the marriage and the projected futures for all three couples.
Pride and Prejudice was influential in demonstrating that everyday events and domestic struggles presented in a realistic way can be as interesting as more sensational stories. Readers experience the events of the plot in the same way the characters do, without any special narrative techniques. This choice of plot structure helps to make the events of the novel relatable. The novel closes with a classic comedic ending in which three of the Bennet sisters are married and the virtuous characters (Jane, Elizabeth, Bingley, and Darcy) are rewarded with prosperity and happiness, while the foolish or wicked characters (Lydia and Wickham) face a more turbulent existence.