Emma Questions and Answers
by Jane Austen

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What are the clearest themes of the book and how does the author present them?

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Two of the key themes that Jane Austen explores in Emma are the importance of personal integrity and the harmful effects of meddling. Emma begins as an adolescent girl who is stuck in childhood but imagines herself having the wisdom of an adult. She is so careless in her search for entertainment that she gratuitously hurts her friends and so confident of the correctness of her positions that she wreaks havoc in other people’s lives with her interference. A subsidiary theme is that a person must learn from their own mistakes rather than from what others tell them.

Emma is caught up in romantic fantasies and mistakes Frank Churchill’s attention for genuine interest in her. She allows herself not only to be flattered by his attention but adopts his carelessly cruel attitude, which results in hurting Miss Bates’s feelings. She wants to be the center of attention, taking for granted her elite status, but without the responsibility of good behavior.

Emma’s matchmaking ideas for Harriet Smith similarly show her stuck in childhood, as she pushes Harriet toward what she sees as a good match for her. Disregarding Harriet’s feelings, Emma almost destroys her friend’s possibility for a loving marriage. Fortunately, as she realizes that her respect for Mr. Knightley is actually love, the pain she suffers when he chastises her opens her eyes to the consequences of her behavior, and she turns over a new leaf.

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