“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition...”(pg.1,chap.1) lived in nineteenth century Regency England, where social status was dictated by wealth and breeding, which as a rule could only be inherited. This insured that wealth stayed within family circles and that the poor could not rise up the social ladder and make a better life for themselves. If one was of good breeding and wealth, such as Emma, one would be high ranking in society almost regardless of what one would do, as long as one did not violate the rigid rules of upper class life. Because women did not travel much in those days, especially not for entertainment, Emma was largely confined to her father's large estate with nothing much to do. Her family's status made it socially unacceptable for her to do much else apart from sitting around, pursuing the fine arts, in order to show how wealthy they were. The limited availability of entertainment and places to go gives the audience a strong sense of the confined nature of an upper class woman's existence at that time.
The song “Kids in America” juxtaposed to the moving clips of Cher's extravagant lifestyle in the opening scene implies that all kids in America live like this. The image is further satirised by Heckerling when Cher states that she leads a “... way normal life for a teenage girl.” The irony in this statement is apparent to the audience when the camera shows Cher selecting her expensive designer clothes from a computer. But unlike Emma Cher is not rich through inheritance, but through her hard working father who his a “litigator” who “makes 500 dollars and hour”. Her wealth can be seen when she walks down the huge staircase in her house, the camera panning past a chandelier and paintings. The fact that they have a maid and gardener further portrays their wealth, setting them as apart from the average contemporary American family as Emma's in her time. But instead of sitting around and pursuing the fine arts, Cher leaves the house and proceeds to drive to school. This is a notable difference as a woman in Emma's age could have only dreamt of such education let alone of a means of travelling independently.
Emma meets Harriet Smith who “...is a natural daughter of nobody knows whom”(pg. 60) and is determined to introduce her into “better society” upon the assumption that she must be a “gentleman's daughter” believing that Harrite's “...soft blue eyes and all those natural graces should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury and its connection.”(pg. 24). Emma thinks Harriet's friends are “...coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimates of a girl who wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect.”(pg.24). Austen, however, portrays through authorial intrusion that the middle class such as Mr. Martin is also Harriet Smith's class and makes it quite clear to the audience that Emma cannot change Harriet's “true nature”.
When Harriet receives a letter of proposal from Mr. Martin, Emma is taken by surprise: “The style of the letter was much above her expectation. There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed were very much to the credit of the composer. It was short, but expressed...