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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Emma Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Young readers will find in Emma a penetrating look at one of the most important issues that they face when growing up: the choice of a proper marriage partner. The novelist focuses on her title character, a young woman who seems to be able to ma-nipulate others to do her bidding. Financially secure and well placed socially, Emma may seem an attractive figure. Unfortunately, she is blinded by her self-centeredness and possesses an immature appreciation for adult social interactions. She is given to flights of imagination and invents motives for others in her social circle that fit her preconceptions about their attitudes and intentions. For her, matchmaking is a game, and while she appreciates the demands of married life, for most of the novel she is unwilling to acknowledge the serious nature of a commitment to that state.

Emma’s actions are not simply self-defeating either; she causes pain to Harriet by building up the young woman’s hopes for matches that cannot come to fruition, and she is on occasion callous in her behavior toward other young women toward whom she feels superior. Her treatment of Jane Fairfax, a genuinely nice woman who is in many ways more polished than she, is especially troublesome. As the story progresses, Emma learns from her mistakes, although she is prone to repeat behavior that is detrimental both to herself and to others. Fortunately, she is finally able to come to understand how love and marriage are natural partners; with the good luck that characterizes most of Austen’s heroines, she learns life’s most important lessons from the man whom she eventually marries.

Austen’s criticism is not confined to the young women in the novel. Frank Churchill’s behavior, especially his flirtation with Emma at a time when he is engaged to Jane, is censored not only by Mr. Knightley but also by the narrator of the work. Austen provides readers with a counterpoint to Frank’s improper behavior in the figure of Mr. Knightley, the quintessential English gentleman. Not given to excessive flattery, he is a keen judge of character, a practitioner of moderation in his social behavior, and a genuinely concerned neighbor and friend to members of both sexes.

The novelist also provides examples of good marriages that serve as models for those not yet married. Emma’s sister Isabella, the wife of Mr. Knightley’s younger brother John, is...

(The entire section is 609 words.)