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When the Company leaves, Elizabeth begins to reread Jane’s letters. Suddenly Darcy comes back in. After making perfunctory inquiries about her health, he declares his love for Elizabeth, who is thunderstruck and mute. Darcy speaks a good deal about his pride and makes Jane feel she is socially inferior to him. He acts like his proposal to her is a divine honor, which Elizabeth cannot turn down. Elizabeth, furious over his superior attitude, spares no words in refusing him. She accuses Darcy of separating Jane and Bingley, of treating Wickham horribly, and of acting in an arrogant manner. Darcy accepts these accusations without apology, but it hurts him when she says that his demeanor is not gentlemanly. When Darcy leaves the house, Elizabeth is so flustered great that she breaks into tears.
This chapter presents a new complication in the plot, for Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, who promptly turns him down. It must be noted that the normally calm and composed Darcy seems flustered, behaving in a theatrical fashion. It is ironic that Darcy’s proposal is the second one that Elizabeth has received, and both are condescending rather that romantic in nature. Both men have felt that it was Elizabeth’s privilege to marry them; also, both were certain that Elizabeth would accept their proposal. Her refusal surprises both men.
If Darcy had worded his proposal in a romantic way, emphasizing his love, Elizabeth would have reacted differently. As it stands, Elizabeth can only attack him. She accuses Darcy of ruining her sister’s chances with Bingley and of upsetting Wickham. Darcy does not understand what Elizabeth means and finds himself at a loss of words. When Elizabeth accuses him of ungentlemanly conduct, Darcy has heard enough, for he greatly prides himself on "his stately bearing,"
What stands in the way of Darcy and Elizabeth getting together at this point in the novel is "pride and prejudice." Darcy’s pride makes him act in a superior way when he proposes; he indicates that he makes the offer in spite of her inferior social position and her vulgar family. Elizabeth’s previously established prejudice against Darcy is intensified; she does not even contemplate marrying such an arrogant man.
In an ironic inversion, Darcy accuses Elizabeth of being too proud, while Elizabeth accuses him of being prejudiced. She tells Darcy that he has a propensity to hate people and has shown his prejudice against Wickham and Jane (and everyone else who comes in his way). The truth is that both characters are guilty of pride and prejudice.