Jane Austen's Emma Essay

1952 words - 8 pages

Jane Austen's Emma

Beautiful dresses, passionate romances, elegant parties, a general state of leisure and happiness – these are only a few of the idealistic views of the nineteenth century. In her novel, Emma, Jane Austen paints a much more realistic picture of the ins and outs of high society in England of the 1800’s. Through the presumptions and pride of the characters of heroine, Emma Woodhouse, and secondary character, Mrs. Elton, Austen presents a stark critique of the social assumptions and diplomatic maneuvering so common of the society of her time, however, by the end of the novel, Austen’s critique is made clear by a subtle foil of these two characters – Emma having been the only one of the two to learn her lesson.

Both of these two ladies, each high in status, display somewhat of a god-complex, taking it upon themselves to partially assist, but mostly re-mold, women whom they view as inferior to themselves. Though Mrs. Elton does this in a much less tactful and more forceful way, she and Emma both view their respective pupils as a pawn to be toyed with and, ultimately, a display of their superiority. Emma’s fancies of becoming a puppet-master begin when she is in the company of Harriet Smith, a girl attending Mrs. Goddard’s boarding school. Austen tells Emma’s thoughts, writing, “She would notice her… improve her… detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life, her leisure and powers” (37-38). This passage makes clear Emma’s intentions of whittling Harriet into what Emma deemed best, not just to better Harriet’s situation, but to compliment her own. Mrs. Weston, Emma’s former governess, refers to Harriet as Emma’s “new object of interest” (47), further showing Emma’s lordship over Harriet. This concept of Harriet being Emma’s toy is made even clearer when Emma paints a likeness of Harriet. Austen tells that Emma embellishes the painting “as she meant to throw in a little improvement to the figure, to give a little more height and considerably more elegance” (55). In doing this, Emma completes her re-creation, for now she has formed Harriet’s demeanor and given her a new physical image as well. As if this were not enough, Emma also reigns over Harriet’s love life. After Harriet is proposed to by Mr. Martin, whom the reader is left to assume that she actually does love, Emma talks her into refusing the proposal and denying her feelings for him. It may be said that Harriet is too submissive in all matters with Emma, but certainly Emma’s class superiority to Harriet’s demanded respect. But this is the very thing that Emma takes advantage of as she tells Harriet that in marrying Mr. Martin, she would be forfeiting Hartfield, Emma’s home, because Emma could not stoop so low as to be in acquaintance with a farmer and his wife. This...

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