Emma, authored by Jane Austen, tells a story of a wealthy young woman’s schemes to match up her new, and much more poor, friend with the town’s unsuspecting bachelors. What is revealed, however, is not Emma’s skills in match-making, but her inability to see the true feelings of those around her, as well as her own heart. Emma took place in a small town called Highbury, in 18th century England. During the time period, there was a definite social rank. Almost all of the scenes in the book take place in or around the estates of the characters. Their property mostly determined their social status. This setting has significance to the storyline because of the social rank. Emma, who is constantly trying to play matchmaker, tries to convince her friend Harriet to marry someone of a higher class than her current love, a farmer. The characters are very aware of their status, and can be discriminating towards people of a lower class. The book was most likely set in this place and time in order to include the conflicts of a hierarchal society.
Emma is the main character of the novel. She is a beautiful, smart, and wealthy 21-year-old woman. Because of her admired qualities, Emma is a little conceited, and feels as though she knows more than others. Thus, her dominant feature is willful imagination. She is the daughter of Henry Woodhouse. Since her mother has died, Emma has taken the role of taking care of her father, who is old and often sick. Because she feels she is obligated to stay by his side, Emma decides not to marry. She has an incredible strong will and mind, thus, her actions are therefore full of purpose and dangerous to others. Though she may be acting out of good intentions, she is fully aware of the ways in which she manipulates.
Emma deems herself a good matchmaker, and tries to put together several couples throughout the novel. She believes that social classes are very important and refuses to see anyone marry someone in a lower rank. She finds out that she doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does, while she also discovers she misread many her acquaintances. She discovers that she didn’t even know herself as well as she thought. As the novel progresses, Emma becomes more mature, and realizes how foolish she had been in the past. In the end, she finally stops matchmaking others and marries Mr. Knightley, who was perfect for her all along.
It can be said that the main conflict of Emma is Emma, herself. She is proud and believes she knows far more than she does when, in fact, she neither truly understands the characters of those around her, nor her own heart. Because she thinks more highly of her understanding than is necessary, she thinks she knows what is best for certain people and meddles in their lives. This can be seen when she befriends Harriet, who is an illegitimate daughter, but is otherwise respectable. Emma assumes that Harriet’s father at least is a gentleman, and decides to use her matchmaking skills in her favor. She feels Mr. Elton would be a suitable husband for her, but Harriet, at the moment, prefers young Mr. Martin, a local farmer.
Emma doesn’t think Mr. Martin would be suitable at all, and says so. Mr. Martin writes to Harriet and asks her to marry him. Harriet is inclined to accept, but Emma talks her out of it and persuades her to refuse him, telling her that he is not good enough for her. Mr. Knightley discovers what Emma has done and fights with her about it, saying she is encouraging Harriet to have ideas above her position in life. The conflict comes in the struggle to grow up and mature. Emma must learn to understand herself and her heart, which she does not comprehend at first. Part of the conflict centers around the fact that she has to learn that she has no right to try to arrange people’s lives for them, realize her judgments have been wrong and admit she has done harm with her meddling.
The resolution begins when she attends a party at the Weston’s home. Mr. Elton is present, and on the way home, appalled Emma by proposing to her. She discovers he has never had any interest in Harriet as a prospective wife. She refuses him and resolves to give up matchmaking, since her attempt to get Harriet and Mr. Elton together had been so disastrous. Unfortunately, Emma finds out that Harriet is in love with Mr. Knightley, horrifying Emma because at this accusation, she realizes that she is in love with him as well. As a result, Emma comes to the realization that she is to blame, for if she hadn’t encouraged Harriet to think herself better than she was, she would have married Mr. Martin in the first place. However, Mr. Knightley proposes to Emma and she accepts.
Robert Martin proposes once again to Harriet and this time she accepts him. It becomes known that Harriet’s father was, in fact, a rich tradesman, so there was no shame in her marrying a farmer after all. Harriet and Robert Martin marry first. Emma and Mr. Knightley still have to adjust Mr. Woodhouse to the idea of them marrying. Emma cannot leave her father, so they plan to live at Hartfield rather than Donwell Abbey, Mr. Knightley’s home. But Mr. Woodhouse sees no rush, wondering why they can’t wait a few years. Fortunately the frustration ends when some local robberies convince Mr. Woodhouse that he would be safer if Mr. Knightley lived at Hartfield. So Emma and Mr. Knightley marry quickly, before Mr. Woodhouse has a chance to change his mind. Thus, Emma recognized her manipulative ways were wrong, and she find her true feelings because she found her own heart.
For women in Austen’s time, marriage was one of the only ways of changing your lifestyle. It’s no wonder that so much of the novel is devoted to imagining different potential matches. Marriage here isn’t just about love, however, but sometimes seen as a business agreement between two people of the same social class. Hardly ever did one marry below or above their class for love. Love in this time was complicated by money, family, land and social status, all of which come into play whenever Emma attempts to arrange marriages. Society and class are also an important theme in the novel, because the whole plot is centered around social ranking and hierarchy. Class structures are the most obvious differences between characters in Emma. The rich control social situations, the social climbers attempt to seem rich and important, and the poor are at the mercy of the rich. Manners mean everything, and those who weren’t born with good courtesy just can’t measure up to those who are.