How does Jane Austen employ irony at different levels in Emma?

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micheldemontaigne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irony is shown when Emma considers her attraction to Mr. Churchill. She is such a match maker toward Harriet that it is ironic she can't tell when she herself is in love.

This irony is compounded with her indecision in how to respond to the news of Mr. Churchill's secret engagement to Miss Fairfax. She knows she ought to feel wounded by his insincerity, but knows she isn't wounded--and so feels ambivalent. Yet, another irony creeps will society perceive this shift in affection?

Not knowing how to feel due to the concern of the way society interprets the situation is ironic in itself, but this was a concern of great import at the time.

So now that Emma is all grown up, she is ironically still in need of Mrs. Weston's guidance in the matter.

This is one example of the way Austen shifts from personal to intrapersonal and social irony.

user7270409 | Student

The greatest irony in "Emma" is that Emma herself does not see reality, which Austen allows the reader to see. The humour comes when she is caught out in her own fancy and reality intrudes. A good example of this is the episode about Emma’s portrait of Harriet. At no point does Emma realise the Mr. Elton is interested in her, rather than Harriet. She is oblivious to even the most obvious clues about his motives, yet we can clearly see what is happening. From the manner in which Mr. Elton behaves it is obvious to the reader that he is much more interested in Emma Woodhouse than in Harriet Smith. Ironically, Emma believes that he falls in love with Harriet due to her scheming. As readers we are fully aware of the real situation and the humour comes from the tension that builds up from here to the final climax of Mr. Elton’s proposal to Emma.

sarahlorraine | Student

Austen uses irony all throughout Emma, often using understatements to assist her. However, like many other lines in the novel, one cannot fully understand them unless reading them for a second time. For example; on the first page of the novel there are a few lines ("The real evils indeed...misfortunes with her.") clearly outline the context of the novel and shows what Emma does not yet understand about herself.

nag | Student

How does Jane Austen employ irony at different levels in Emma