Emma by Jane Austen

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Societal Affects of Love

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a classic comedy that took place in the nineteenth-century near London, England. Emma tells the tale of a heroine attempting to be the matchmaker for everyone, and ultimately herself. Emma Woodhouse, the main character, loses her dear friend and governess, Miss Taylor, to Miss Taylor’s marriage, in which she becomes Mrs. Weston. Emma, in search of another cherished companion, comes across Harriet Smith. Although Harriet comes from a lower class in society, Emma admires her beauty and takes it upon herself to improve Harriet in order to make her acceptable to the upper class. For instance, Mr. Martin, a local farmer, seems to have fallen in love with Harriet, yet Emma suggests that she reject him because she believes Harriet has the potential to get a man who is high in society. Harriet complies, and Emma goes on to recommend Mr. Elton, a preacher, whom she believes is a perfect match for Harriet. Though, later on Emma realizes Mr. Elton has in fact fallen in love with her, rather than Harriet, making her question her matchmaking skills. After a period of absence from matchmaking, Mrs. Weston’s stepson, Frank Churchill, visits town and Emma falls for him. Harriet approaches Emma with the declaration that she has fallen in love with another man, however Emma insists that Harriet keep the name to herself due to Emma’s fear of ruining a potential companionship because of her lack of skill of matchmaking. Emma fears that Harriet is in love with Frank, so she revokes her personal feelings for him in order to further Harriet’s chances at obtaining a man of higher class. However, Emma discovers that Frank is already engaged to Jane Fairfax and discloses this information to Harriet. When Harriet is informed of this, she seems disinterested, showing she was in fact not in love with Frank, but rather fallen for Mr. Knightly. Once this information is disclosed, Emma then realizes she is in love with Mr. Knightley as well and he carries the same feelings for her. As one reads the story, it is easily concluded that social ranking is the apparent source of the decisions being made. Waldron says: Everybody except Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill is caught up in a complex web of social assumptions… which creates a hilarious mix of misunderstanding and blunder, so that nobody is seeing exactly what is there, or hearing exactly what is being said. (141) Throughout the story, one can notice that social status and class affect not only the love of the characters, but also, to a sense, determine their lives.

Being considered high in society, Emma Woodhouse prefers to only be associated with those of the upper class. This explains her desire to change Harriet as soon as she meets her because she notices the potential Harriet possesses even though she is of the lower class. The narrator tells us: Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour boarder… She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness; and, before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance. (22) Emma associated with the lower class but made sure that everyone knew there was a difference between her and them. She did not want to ruin her reputation by being seen with people beneath her. Miss Emma Woodhouse likes the feeling of helping people who are lower than her; therefore, that is the only time she mixes with the lower class. After Emma’s time spent with Harriet, Emma thinks she has raised Harriet in society. When Mr. Robert Martin, a farmer, falls in love with Harriet, he proposes. Emma does not like this and...
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