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Module B - Emma Essay

The critical study of literature highlights the way a text can transcend time and remain relevant.
To what extent do you agree with this statement? In your response, make detailed reference to
The significance of texts through the critical study of literature reveals both contextual and current
ideas about the human condition and more broadly, about society. Through the frequent emphasis
on marriage, social hierarchy and the key qualities of the human condition, Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’
demonstrates how the Regency values and attitudes continue to remain relevant in the 21st century.
The constant expectation of marriage and status are not constricted to the eighteenth century and
the qualities of human nature remain constant throughout time.
Societal expectations of matrimony have shifted but still remain significant. Women’s influence in
the eighteenth century prevails largely in relation to men, exemplified through the constant
emphasis of marriage in daily life. Emma convinces Harriet that “there would be hope of more-of
security, stability and improvement” if she were to marry Mr Elton. Emma’s cumulative listing
exemplifies the benefits of marriage to a gentleman. Marriage to Mr Elton could offer Harriet
protection against dangers and living with a sensible man would improve her. Austen effectively
reveals Regency attitudes towards marriage, highlighting it as a necessity for women of the
eighteenth century. In contrast, Austen challenges these ideas through Emma’s character as she
contradicts the conventional role of women in these ideas century. Emma employs a tricolon with
repetition to show the height of her position: “Fortune do not want; employment I do not want;
consequence I do not want”. Emma rejects the idea of matrimony since she is financially
independent and is aware of how her position within the household would change if she were to
marry, effectively reflecting a more modern perspective towards the independence of women.
Consequently, Emma’s ideology reveals Austen’s criticism about the role of women in the 18th
century as she questions the need for marriage. Emma confidently proclaims “I must find other
people charming–one other person at least”. The em-dash reveals Emma’s sardonic view about love,
presenting her insight into her growing desire for romance in marriage. Through Emma’s thoughts,
Austen criticises the social views, expressing that rather than a business deal, marriage should also
be based on mutual love and respect. Thus, Austen demonstrates “a lesson that is yet being learnt
today” asocial states, expressing her strong ability to resonate with a variety of audiences &
contexts. Austen’s ‘Emma’ proves to transcend time through her modern perspectives of
matrimony, a subject that continues to dominate people’s lives.
The satirizing of the gentry reveals the issues within social hierarchy. Emma as an upper-class
individualism portrayed as arrogant and ignorant. Emma’s commensurateness between her rank and
literary taste is contrasted with Robert Martin’s as she says “He was a great deal too full of the
market to think of anything else—which is just as it should be, for a thriving man”. The subordinate
clause is isolated with a dash to further solidify the social norms of the Regency period, and more
importantly, Emma’s unwavering adherence to it. Emma’s commentary is evidence of the prevailing
opinion in society that people who were not already at genteel status would strive to make money
while people in the genteel were believed to be free from concern, thereby allowing them to
cultivate higher virtues. Emma continues to use her condescending tone when referring to the Coles,
stating that they were “of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel.” Emma feels that the
Coles are inferior to herself and her colleagues, and that they do not deserve the right to arrange
gatherings/parties with the 'superior families'.
Thus, ‘Emma’ can be seen as a social satire, ridiculing the gentry stratum of society, which was most
concerned with class and status and the least confident of its own social position. Austen’s artistic
representation of the high class challenges the nature of social hierarchy, presenting the issues of
social divide and prejudice. Austen’s satirical perspective of upper-class people reveals the true
representation of these individuals and remains relevant as social systems continue to exist and
individuals are subjected to power and social segregation.
Unethical and immoral behaviour is encouraged through ignorance, and is only rectified when the
truth emerges. The complexities of human nature are explored through Emma’s bildungsroman. The
didactic and blunt nature of Mr Knightley when he states “Vanity working on a weak head, produces
every sort of mischief” indicates that he is talking about Emma. Emma is deceived as to the nature
and reality of the world around her, as well as to the nature of her own emotions and interferes with
the lives of those around her to fit her perception. Mr Elton’s riddle is about a woman with a “soft
eye” and “ready wit”, clearly referring to Emma, but Emma’s self-deception about her own interest
in love leads her to misinterpret it as being about Harriet. After Harriet’s confession of her love for
and Knightley to Emma, Emma realizes “that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!”, her new
insight giving a moment of self-awareness of previous misreadings and misperceptions. Austen uses
free indirect discourse to signify Emma’s enlightenment, which allows her to confront her own
feelings to Mr Knightley later on. Austen, thereby, reveals that when the truth of human situations
and feelings is not perceived accurately, confusion and unhappiness result. It is only when
misconceptions are dispelled and truths are revealed that happiness can predominate. Austen’s
frequent use of indirect speech as well her critical engagement of Emma’s bildungsroman enables
the audience to see how she matures throughout the novel. Indeed, Austen’s characters “represent
our own selves to us.” and “shows that faults are a part of everybody’s character" (Özlem Karadag,
2011). Austen, therefore, provides timeless insight into human perception, which tends to be driven
by irrational emotions and biases, revealing that they are not always reality.
In drawing attention to the ideas, attitudes and values of its context, Austen’s text enables a greater
insight into the world of the Regency period as well as current society. Through the exploration of
societal issues of status and marriage as well as the exploration of human behaviour, Austen has
been able to transcend time and remain relevant.