How are women limited by society in Emma?

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In Emma, women are largely limited by fortune and social status. They have less mobility and fewer options than men and are limited to what they must do or can do in order to make a living and remain "decent" women.

For example, Harriet Smith is a young girl who is limited in her prospects because she does not know her parentage and does not have an independent fortune. Harriet is young, pretty, and good natured. However, in order to make any friends in the neighborhood, she must rely on her friends to introduce her around. In order to ensure her survival as a woman she must find a reasonable marital match in her social sphere. She cannot marry too far above her own station because no one wants to be attached to a woman who has no known reputable family and no wealth.

Jane Fairfax is in a similar situation. Jane herself is young, pretty, talented, and smart. However, she has no fortune and only poor spinster relatives. Therefore, she must rely on finding a position as a governess in a wealthy household until she finds a man who is interested in her and who can guarantee her security.

Emma herself is also limited. Emma herself is rich, pretty, and young. Paradoxically, her independent wealth limits her more than some of the other characters—there are a limited number of men who are her social equals. Much of the time she feels bored because the circle of friends that she has in her own social strata is very small.

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