By Jane Austen

Character Analysis

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to vex her"(pg. 3). Emma Woodhouse is the protagonist of the novel and is often described as being talented and clever, however, she tends to meddle in the business of others and her actions create a variety of problems that she has to deal with. She is also the younger of two sisters and only had a governess to entertain her as, "her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses" (pg. 3), so when her governess, Miss Taylor, gets married she becomes bored and a little sad. This is evident as she searches for potential friends and throughout the novel she gains many, including Harriet Smith, Jane Fairfax, and Frank Churchill. Though she often has their best interests at heart her plans tend to go awry. "The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much of her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself" (pg. 3). One example of this is that she herself says she will never marry multiple times but pushes her friend, Harriet, to fall in love with a man who she thinks is in love with Harriet and wants her to be married because she believes it to be the perfect match. Meanwhile, the man is actually in love with Emma and crushes Harriet's heart. Emma continues to try to match up Harriet though and it is almost like she is trying to live through Harriet as she believes she will never marry herself. She was also not always sure of her opinions and sometimes looked at the point of view of others. "She did not always feel so absolutely satisfied with herself, so entirely convinced that her opinions were right and her adversary's wrong" (pg. 62).

Literary Elements

The setting used in Emma forms a foundation for the story as a whole by displaying the social values of the time period while characterization provides a variety conflicts and resolutions between the character's personal beliefs and personalities in general. First of all, the story takes place in the early nineteenth century in Highbury, England. During this time there was limited interaction between the classes as is shown by Emma saying, "That may be, and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity" (pg. 26). Also, when Emma tries to set up Harriet with Mr.Elton, it is known that the match will not work because of the social disparity between the two and even Mr.Martin, a farmer, may be her superior as her birth parents are not known. Mr.Knightley comments, "No, he is not her equal, indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation" (pg. 56). This produces conflicts in both Emma and Harriet's lives which they must fix. Emma's personality and beliefs often clashed with those around her, such as Mr.Knightley, and created many of the conflicts within the story that helped it progress. One of the situations where she is too involved and creates conflict is Harriet's love life which continues to end in a broken heart and also results in an argument between Emma and Mr.Knightley. "You saw her answer! you wrote her answer too. Emma, this is your doing. You persuaded her to refuse him" (pg. 56). However, her actions also evoke sympathy towards her from the reader because she does truly regret some of her actions such as when she acted unkindly towards Miss.Bates, "and Emma felt tears running down her cheeks almost all the way home" (pg 359).Overall, the characters vulnerability and willingness to help one another as well as the setting provide what is needed for the story to advance.
Emma by Jane Austen is a classic story of romance and human nature which i would recommend to all. It shows how we are all unsure of what opportunities we would take if they were presented before us. It also shows that even the best of us, whether in wealth, skill, or knowledge, still make mistakes and are sometimes unsure about our actions in the present, past, and future.


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