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Even tough Jane Austen’s story Emma is centered on the journey of the main character in the process of developing into maturity, the story also offers many other insights and perspectives that are to be found in the novel. Austen uses the story to offer an insight into the stratified society in which she killed by confronting the warped notions held by society. By the use of irony and satire, Austen makes a mockery of the high society and their ideals through a presentation of the society through the Highbury community (Austen, 12-15). Austen makes the Highbury community the basis upon which the different characters of society are analyzed. The members of the society are thus analyzed through the different members of the Highbury community. The use of the community while allowing for a deep analysis of character; however constraint the analysis as the character pool is reduced.
Emma’s domineering attitude and arrogance are thus established early in the narrative. The author states that she lived the first twenty one years of her life with little difficulty and that the only difficulty she encountered was having it too easy. Emma is blind to the folly of her mannerisms and Austen thus establishes her as an arrogant snob who nobody likes right from the beginning. Austen however points out that Emma’s mannerisms are not to be blamed on her but rather on her society and her father’s upbringing. Emma’s father is portrayed as an indulgent person who never did find fault in anything that his daughter did. This indulgent manner in which Mr. Woodhouse brought up his daughter therefore contributes to her haughtiness and arrogance. The combination of an indulgent father and her social standing in the Highbury community are therefore established as the causes of Emma’s unacceptable mannerisms (Austen, 194-197).
Austen is thus very clear in establishing that Emma is not entirely to blame for her behavior since her character was a combination of society and her upbringing. Emma is incapable of knowing her mannerisms are unacceptable since the society in which she lived in viewed he in such high standing that they dared not criticize her. The only person who criticized Emma’s behavior was Mr. Knightly even though Emma never took his reprimands seriously and therefore he r development process is delayed. A good example of this is seen in chapter eight when Emma and Mr. Knightly discuss Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal to Harriet. In typical fashion, Emma makes the assumption that Harriet being a gentleman’s daughter is of higher social standing than Mr. Martin and therefore unfit to make such a proposal. Mr. Knightly disagree with Emma’s opinion by arguing that Mr. Martin due to his sense and circumstances was of a higher social standing than Harriet (Austen, 212). Mr. Knightly unlike Emma takes into account the realities of the situation as opposed to Emma who only makes judgments on outward and superficial measures. Emma’s blindness is an indication of her lack of maturity which is further shown when she out rightly rejects Mr. Knightly’s opinions.
Emma’s development and reformation hinges on the modification of her attitudes regarding other and regarding herself. This transformation is portrayed through her treatment of Bates. Emma’s high standing in her Highbury community made the community expect her to visit the less privileged in her community. While Emma made a visit to Bates, we get the feeling that she does it out of a sense of duty rather than out of genuine concern for welfare. Emma’s comments regarding her visits portray her feelings towards the less privileged in Highbury.
Emma’s arrogance and snobbery towards the poor people of Highbury makes the reader develop a negative perception of her. The poor people of Bates were very happy to have Emma visiting them while Emma saw these visits as a burden and a chore. Emma considers the poor to be so needful of her compassion, counsel and personal attention which she gives in a patronizing demeanor. What galls the reader though is not that she does not care for the less fortunate but rather it is that she cares so narrowly about them. Emma portrays her superficiality when her attention shifts from the poor tot sight seeing thereby condemning everything else as trifles (Austen, 234-238). In the matter of the marriage proposal and the proposed marriage between Elton and Harriet, Emma shows her arrogance and unbecoming manners when she insolently mocks Miss Bates on the number of suitors she has. It is left to Mr. Knightly to reprimand Emma on her manners in mocking a woman of Miss Bates age and character. It is from this point in the story that Emma begins to experience a change in her character as is seen in her not dismissing of Mr. Knightly’s criticism of her behavior. It is from this point on that she begins to change her behavior from domineering and arrogance towards an attitude of respect for other people’s worth.
The incident at Box Hill marks a change in the attitude and character of Emma. She begins to take a closer look of her erroneous ways and gains valuable insights from her past mistakes. Emma begins to acknowledge the errors in her past and her bad value judgments and finally recognizes that she has a flawed character which she needs to change. Emma becomes a new person and when she revisits the Bates she does so not out of a sense of duty but rather because she wants to do so. The author states that she would visit the Bates in the warmth of genuine concern and she hopes that it would be the beginning of a mutual intercourse (Austen, 278). This change in the character of Emma which sees her adopting a more humble demeanor makes the reader forgive her of her past folly and misjudgment and makes the reader start o identify with her.
On the surface Austen’s story is about the process of a young woman developing from an arrogant and domineering person to a person who ultimately changes into a caring and compassionate woman who has learned from her folly and misjudgments through irony and satire. Austen also portrays an important aspect in her narrative in analyzing the importance of societal values and structure. Austen makes use of the main character Emma to criticize the stratified social structure which makes people behave in a n unacceptable manner without offering people a chance to correct them. Most of the irony that can be gleaned from the text is as a result of Emma’s inability to perceive other people from an empathetic perspective which is what results in the many misjudgments and errors she makes. Emma’s attitude towards other people makes her be manipulative and domineering to people and incidents which does not endear her to the reader. A good example of this is her attempt to match up Harriet and Mr. Elton e3ven as Mr. Knightly had told her that it would not work. Emma is proved wrong when her maneuvering fails and it is proved that Mr. Elton has feeling for Emma instead of Harriet.
Emma’s character presents an indictment of the people of high status in Austen’s time. Emma’s domineering arrogance and patronizing attitude portray the superficiality of the high class of Austen’s era. Even as Austen creates a satirical and ironic tone in the novel it is quite evident that she is very serious in condemning the accepted norms of her society particularly societal values and the ills of social stratification. In Emma, the author fashions a world which is controlled by status and affluence to a very great extent. Through the novel Emma we come to know that wealth and social status were so important to Austen’s community such that they influenced the formation of relationships. A good example of this is Elton’s decision to marry Augusta since she had more money than Harriet who had better attributes except for money (Austen, 301-5). The world created by Austen is a society in which affluence determined the social standing of people and how they related with others. Membership in the upper classes of society was a function of ownership of property, and descent from a certain prestigious family. This is evident in the position of the Coles who even while possessing great wealth are not considered to be among the elite since they do not have a distinguished family name. The Coles were thus treated with disdain by the elite who dictated the terms of socialization.
Austen portrays this stratification of the society through the manner in which Mr. Martin is treated by Emma. Emma treats Mr. Martin with contempt all through he novel since he is a farmer and does not come from a distinguished family. The manner in which a person behaved in social gatherings portrayed the prestige and status of a person. In addition to good breeding a person needed to have wealth and come from a distinguished family in order to attain a high social standing in Austen’s society (Austen, 356-8). While the majority of the society ascribes to this warped policy, there are a few exceptions such as Mr. Knightly. Mr. Knightly, while acknowledging his position of wealth and privilege relative to others is modest and mingles freely with people who are regarded as lesser members in his society such as Mr. Martin. At the end of the novel Austen makes a very important statement with regard to status and integrity of a person. Through Emma Austen states that social values ought to be given more importance over personal integrity. Emma declares that the intimacy between her and Harriet must be ended and be replaced with a lesser friendship. This in essence is a statement by Emma that friendship and intimacy between the elite and the ordinary people is not possible. Through Emma’s statement, Austen makes a mockery of high society and its members by emphasizing those material possessions ought not to be the measure through which society makes an analysis of people’s integrity and status and that instead people should be judged according to their personal worth as people.
Thus the novel Emma by Jane Austen is not purely a narrative on how a young woman develops into maturity, it also makes the readers of the text to attain an understanding of Austen’s and reflect on how these issue are relevant in their society. The author provides insights on the results of arrogance vanity and a patronizing attitude as portrayed through the character of Emma and her growth from folly to maturity. Austen intends to tell her society that even as the society may conform to warped ideas, change may still be achieved on a personal level. The author stresses the importance of self knowledge obtained from self analysis and analysis of one’s relationship with others which leads to fuller and richer relationships and personal growth (Austen, 450-5).
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