How does the setting of Emma impact the characters' actions the plot?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting of the Jane Austen novel Emma is the village of Highbury in the countryside of England. Austen chose English villages because her life was lived in such villages and she viewed it as the most authentic choice she could make. The houses of importance in Emma are Hartfield, Emma's home that she shares with her father; Donwell Abbey, the abode of the local Squire Mr. Knightly; Mr, and Mrs. Weston's home; Mr. Elton's and later Mrs. Elton's vicarage; the apartment of Miss and Mrs. Bates. The surrounding countryside housed Robert Martin's home and farm and the occasional wandering band of gypsies.

The proximity of the action being mainly focused in Highbury means that the characters actions were influenced by daily life and social activities. For instance, social visits, dinners and evenings playing cards; trips to the local shops; calling on good friends and annoying neighbors. There were the occasional special influences on actions, such as a ball planned at the local hall that needed the loving care of a few scrubbing ladies to make it presentable; an encounter with gypsies; chance meetings with the object of one's affection; strawberry picking parties; sudden jaunts to London under the pretext of haircuts; and exploring tours to nearby scenic spots. At each juncture of place and character, Austen moved the plot further through character development (Emma at the Bates's), conflict (turmoil at the strawberry party); or mysteries (Jane and Frank singing so well together).