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Emma | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In Chapter 6, how does Emma manipulate Harriet into turning down Mr. Robert Martin's marriage proposal?

When Harriet receives the proposal letter, she turns to Emma for advice. Harriet asks what she should do, and Emma says, "I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him." Harriet asks again, because she clearly wants to accept Mr. Martin. Emma then pretends that she wouldn't for the world advise her friend on such a serious matter. But she reminds Harriet about Mr. Elton, asking her if she knows of someone more agreeable than Mr. Martin as a potential husband. At that point, Harriet gives in and says she will refuse the farmer. Emma then uses emotional blackmail just in case Harriet loses courage, saying that if Harriet were to marry Mr. Martin, Emma could have nothing to do with her. This upsets Harriet greatly, and she feels happy to have saved their friendship.

Why does Mr. Knightley get angry at Emma when Harriet turns Mr. Robert Martin down?

Mr. Knightley is angry because he knows that the match is a good one and that his young friend is very much in love with Harriet. Mr. Martin had previously approached Mr. Knightley for advice about the marriage, and Mr. Knightley gladly gave his approval. When Mr. Knightley finds out about Harriet's response, he realizes Emma persuaded her to refuse Mr. Martin. Mr. Knightley believes that Harriet's new pretensions to marry up are unfounded, as she doesn't have birth, education, or connections. He is mortified to have led Mr. Martin astray and dismayed that Emma's meddling will likely result in two people being unhappy when they could have been happy together.

How does Emma show maturity and empathy in dealing with her family members?

Emma shows a different side to her personality when she is dealing with her family. She loves her father dearly, even though he is a fussy old man who thinks that everyone should do as he does. When her sister, Isabella, and brother-in-law, John Knightley, come to visit, she knows that sparks may fly because her father annoys John. Emma works hard to keep both her father and brother-in-law happy. Sometimes she must keep information from her father in order to maintain the peace.

How do the characteristics of Mr. Elton's courting style blind Emma to his intentions?

Mr. Elton shows "most agreeable manners" to Emma and Harriet and is quick to flatter and praise both of them. At Emma's request, he writes a riddle for Harriet's scrapbook, and Emma assumes its topic of courtship applies to Harriet when in fact Mr. Elton intended it for Emma herself. When Emma tacitly accepts his courtship on Harriet's behalf, he gives a pompous speech that makes Emma laugh after he leaves. His lack of directness allows Emma to think that Harriet is his target until the point at which Mr. Elton proposes to Emma.

Why does Emma tell Harriet that a poor old maid should be rightfully ridiculed but a rich spinster is always respectable?

Emma says, "A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid ... but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable." With this statement, Emma recognizes that the social stigma applied to older single women is most often reserved for those who are without substantial means. Because she initially vows never to marry, Emma may be defending her decision to remain single, as well as projecting how she expects to be treated as an unmarried woman of good fortune.

Why does Mr. Elton not realize Emma believes him to be courting Harriet?

Mr. Elton understandably thinks he is courting Emma because she has begun inviting him to Hartfield and has been spending considerable time with him. He can't imagine that she would be trying to match him up with Harriet, because he is conceited and considers Harriet so far beneath him. Being a good-looking man who has some money, he believes he is perfectly justified in trying to marry someone with money. When Emma accepts his riddle, he takes it as a sure sign that she wants him to court her.

In Emma, what do Mr. Elton's beliefs about Harriet Smith's value say about illegitimacy and social class?

When Emma tells Mr. Elton she thought he was courting Harriet, he responds by saying, "No doubt, there are men who might not object to—Every body has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss." In other words, Harriet's illegitimacy is such a big deal that a man would have to be willing to lower his own status to marry her. Mr. Elton's concept of an equal alliance includes a woman's social standing as well as her fortune.

In Chapter 17, how does Harriet's reaction to the news of Mr. Elton's proposal make Emma question her own worth?

Harriet is heartbroken because she thinks she is in love with Mr. Elton. Due to Emma's advice, Harriet gave up on the idea of marrying Mr. Martin and applied herself to falling in love with the vicar. Moreover, Emma successfully convinced Harriet of Mr. Elton's affections for her. Emma knows that Harriet idolizes her and trusts her advice. Feeling ashamed with herself after Mr. Elton's proposal, Emma believes that Harriet is "the superior creature of the two" and that she herself might do well to try to be more humble and discreet.

How and why does Emma change after she realizes she was mistaken about Mr. Elton's intentions?

Emma realizes that her plan caused pain to Harriet and aroused the displeasure of Mr. Knightley, not to mention her own discomfort. She vows not to engage in any further matchmaking activities, and though she has hopes for Harriet and Frank Churchill much later in the novel, she does nothing to try to facilitate a relationship between the two. She realizes that it was wrong to interfere and promises not to do it again.

Which qualities of Harriet's does Emma most admire, and why?

Emma sees Harriet as an innocent with an open heart, and she admires her ability to love easily and without reservation. When Harriet continues to pine for Mr. Elton, Emma asks her to cheer up—a selfish request made to assuage her own guilt. Nonetheless, Harriet makes a large effort to do so, and Emma thinks that "there is no charm equal to the tenderness of the heart ... with an affectionate, open manner." Emma knows she is far more calculating than Harriet is, and she is somewhat disturbed by this. However, she comforts herself by recognizing that she can value openness in others.

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