Emma Questions and Answers
by Jane Austen

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What message is Austen sending through the final sentence in Emma: "the perfect happiness of the union"? How can one relate this to the theme of Cinderella?

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Jane Austen’s Emma ends with two weddings in quick succession, both performed, perhaps without any particular enthusiasm, by Mr. Elton. The first unites Harriet with Robert Martin; the second, Emma with Mr. Knightley. It is this latter wedding which is described in the final paragraph:

The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.—“Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!—Selina would stare when she heard of it.”—But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

The irony here is that Mrs. Elton is a thoroughly vulgar woman who has not the taste to appreciate a sophisticated ceremony and probably thinks every bride ought to look like a meringue. Even if it were pitiful to have very little white satin, the important matter, as Austen points out in the final sentence, is the marriage, not the wedding. Emma has learned a great deal about herself during the novel and is finally fitted to enjoy married life with the man she has always loved without realizing it.

If there is an analogy to be drawn with Cinderella, then Emma has spent the better part of the novel trying to be the Fairy Godmother, with no success whatsoever. Harriet would be Cinderella, though she eventually marries a good man on her own level of society, rather than one of Emma’s unsuitable princes. No one goes from rags to riches, which is the principal theme of Cinderella, but Emma does learn the importance of kindness, a secondary theme in the fairy tale.

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