An Analysis of Jane Austin’s Emma

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The protagonist belongs to the highest social position in Hartfield’s estate in Surrey, in the village of Highbury of Regency England. He has social responsibilities towards other members holding lesser or poor social positions. Emma is a young woman possessing great amount of charm and tenacity, but misguided by imaginative skills that cloud her judgment. Jane Austen’s Emma is a sophisticated example of fiction employing the art of high wit, elements such as irony, subtlety, diction etc to achieve overall effect to the narrative. Emma, set in a fictional village of rural England within the timeline of the early nineteenth century, is structured around consummated and/or anticipated marriages. The narrative implies the relationship among different characters in a subtle way, providing deeper understanding of the characters that are apparent to only a vigilant reader. The novel involves the development of the character, Emma, from being an ambivalent and naive person to a mysterious individual. The plot involves the courtship and romantic connections of three major couples and their ultimate marriages. Austin presents marriage as a fundamental aspect of the society that appropriates and solidifies the social status of individuals. In Emma the institution of marriage is also used as the reason for all conflicts and excitement among its characters. Apart from the primary theme of courtship and marriage, the theme of social class also plays a vital role in the novel. Through this novel, Austin asserts the necessity of compassion and charity among the members of higher classes, which is evident from taking Harriet Smith of the lower class and bringing her to almost an equal social level. The readers can also see Emma pointing out the lower – class distinction of Harriet and the assertion that she would not have been accepted by the higher class, if she did not have Emma’s influence. This causes confusion for Harriet who is caught between the desire of marriage and acceptance from higher class and the fear of rejection from her peers, like the Martins. Love is another major theme of the story. Even though Emma considers the possibility of her marriage to Frank Churchill, the reader finds that she is immune to romantic love. She even acknowledges that she does not love Churchill and that she is happy in his presence as well as in his absence. Here, Austin seems to argue that for the society, love is not a requirement for marriage. On the other hand, the social class, fortune and logical qualities become the decisive factors for marriages. However, we can see that Emma, who is financially independent, does not need to succumb to the above logical considerations and that she is able to marry Mr. Knightley solely for love. The marriages of Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax also involve love, though their alliances also serve the purpose of financial and social security. The novel also involves the theme of imagination vs. reason, which becomes unraveled only to the eyes of the audience. There exists constant conflict between desires and judgment in this novel. When Emma misreads Mr. Elton’s behavior, she imagines that he is in love with Harriet. Mr. Elton, on the other hand, is in love with Emma and misreads her behavior for encouragement. Mr. Knightley is unable to form an infallible judgment of Frank Churchill, as he is jealous of Churchill’s