Perception and Deception in Jane Austens' Emma

Topics: Emma, Jane Austen, Novel Pages: 5 (1560 words) Published: May 7, 2013
ENN203J: Jane Austen28/02/2013
The misunderstandings with regard to perception and deception in Jane Austen’s novel Emma undeniably suggest something sinister about human nature, given the negative effects it has on those that fall prey to such conjecture. However, the misunderstandings may also render the novel comedic to a certain extent because of the ironic amusement throughout, which involves complete misunderstandings from characters on all sides. Austen’s renowned overall irony throughout these misunderstandings and her use of sharp social commentary that is extremely entertaining, witty and clever also adds to the amusement of the novel. This Essay will discuss different scenarios and use different examples from the novel to show how the different outcomes of such distorted perception and deception suggest something sinister about human nature.

It can be observed that some of the more sinister and destructive traits of human nature, namely: speculation and conjecture play a big part in this novel, unfortunately often leading to complete misunderstandings and despondency. Although speculating about other people’s lives and relationships is typically a common trait of human curiosity; there is a vast difference between innocent speculation and going above and beyond the innocent making of guesses by adding substance to assumptions and allowing personal preferences and desires to completely blind one’s judgement. It is evident throughout the novel that some characters are determined to promote their conjectures and turn them into facts; it is this somewhat menacing interference that often has a damaging heart throbbing effect on its victims.

“Seldom, very seldom, does truth belong to any human disclosure.” It can be argued that this quotation could be taken as the novel’s motto. This novel is filled to the brim with disguises and mistakes, especially where Emma Woodhouse is involved, although she is not the only character that is guilty of this. Emma seems to have a habit of meddling in other people’s affairs. Given her degree of wealth, power and independence it is not surprising that she thinks she can play with and manipulate the lives of those around her. Although she usually has her friends’ best interests at heart, her arrogance and self-importance often gets in the way of what is best for other people. Her interferences and judgements are often founded on her own warped and glorified perceptions of situations. She encourages people to link up for superficial, unrealistic reasons and tries to play “God” or “puppeteer” in other people’s lives; especially that of Harriet Smith. The negative effects that her interfering has on some people reiterate the ominous underlying feature that promotion of such subjective perception can have on peoples’ lives. It should be noted that the society during the 19th century, when the novel was based, have very judgemental undercurrents which contributes unquestionably towards the sinister nature evident in the characters which are discussed throughout this essay. A society such as the one in the novel shows us a dramatic difference between accepted standards in the 19th century and the accepted standards today. It is evident that wealth and breeding were two of the most important considerations when contemplating marriage in this time period in which the novel was based. Breeding, however, ruled supreme; therefore instead of men marrying women for love, they would prefer to marry a woman of high social class and wealth that will secure them a decent future and will allow them to be highly respected in the community. This shallow mentality and disregard for true happiness to embrace wealth and good social standing in itself represents a more sinister part of human nature. It is this mentality that gives a foundation to the deceptions in the novel. It is this disregard for people’s feelings for the enjoyment of wealth...

References: Barbara Hardy, A Reading of Jane Austen. London: Peter Owen, 1975
Jane Austen, Emma. London: Collins Classics, 2010
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Emma.” SparkNotes LLC. 2003. (accessed February 25, 2013).
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