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The ladies of Longbourn and those of Netherfield exchange visits. Jane Bennet’s immaculate manners and cheerful disposition please Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, but they do not care much about her family. It is quite obvious to Elizabeth that Jane is succumbing to Mr. Bingley’s charms although she is inclined to think that "her uniform cheerfulness of manner" is a foolproof camouflage to hide her true feelings about anything. Elizabeth confides this fact to her friend Charlotte.
While Elizabeth is preoccupied with Bingley’s attention to her sister Jane, she does not realize that she herself is becoming the focal point of Darcy’s attention. Darcy, who had earlier written off Elizabeth as a ‘tolerable’ maiden, later realizes that she has lovely eyes and a fine figure. He wishes to know her better and tries to listen in on her conversations with others.
At a party, Elizabeth is goaded to play the piano and sing. She readily obliges and charms the audience by her performance. She is followed at the piano by her sister Mary, who is most eager to showcase her talent. Darcy stands aloof, wrapped in his thoughts. Suddenly, Sir William Lucas draws him into a conversation. Lucas stumps him by suggesting aloud that he must dance with Elizabeth. Darcy beseeches her to dance with him, but Elizabeth spurns him in retribution for his earlier refusal to dance with her. As Darcy stands apart and thinks about Elizabeth, Miss Bingley approaches and asks what he is thinking. He blatantly replies that the subject of his musings is Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Bingley is stupefied and teases him about the probability of having Mrs. Bennet for a mother-in-law.
Charlotte’s observations about the danger of concealing one’s love and her admonition that "a woman had better show more affection than she feels" are relevant. They foreshadow Darcy’s influencing Bingley against Jane on the grounds that her feelings do not seem very deep.
This chapter also offers a discourse on marriage, the central concern of the novel. Charlotte’s view of marriage is pragmatic. She is ready to sweep aside romantic considerations for monetary ones. Her later marriage will fulfill her expectation. Jane and Elizabeth want to marry for love, and Lydia wants to find physical gratification in marriage.
This chapter also reveals an ironic reversal of situations. At the first ball, Darcy refused to dance with Elizabeth. At the second ball, Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy. As a result, the theme of pride and prejudice gains momentum. It also causes miscommunication and misunderstanding. Elizabeth assumes that Darcy is again prejudiced against her because she has stung his pride, but Darcy is actually attracted by her pertness and her ‘fine eyes’.
Jane Austen also presents a contrast between Mary and Elizabeth in the chapter. Mary plays the piano with studied perfection, reflective of how she lives her life. She desperately attempts to cover up her plainness by pretending to be rational and intelligent. On the other hand, Elizabeth’s piano playing is not perfect, yet her spirited performance highlights her spontaneity and her innate intelligence. She is a creature guided by feeling and impulse, as will be seen repeatedly in the book.