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Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


Why is Miss Bates liked and respected by the people in Emma's circle despite her poverty?

Miss Bates is liked by almost everybody and is respected because she is cheerful and happy and has a grateful spirit. She is also respected because she is a gentlewoman, although she is poor. When Emma points out the woman's habit of chattering in disjointed stream-of-consciousness monologues, Mr. Knightley rebukes her sharply. His words—"Her situation should secure your compassion"—remind readers that a person's value is not entirely dependent on wealth.

What does Emma's preference of Harriet over Jane say about her character?

Emma's preference marks her as an egotist. Harriet flatters her ego, while Jane offers a challenge to her self-centered superiority. As the richest woman in town, Emma is used to people paying her respect. She has been spoiled by her father and governess, who find no fault in her. Although quick-witted and talented since childhood, she has never applied herself to excellence in any pursuit. Jane Fairfax is Emma's superior in intellectual and artistic accomplishment. Emma prefers a friend to whom she can feel superior; Harriet Smith is younger and far below her in class and accomplishment. Acting as Harriet's mentor nurses Emma's feelings of superiority.

In the novel Emma, why does Mr. Knightley despise Frank Churchill?

Mr. Knightley is jealous of Frank because Emma seems to favor him and because Frank seems to be courting her. However, the main reason that he dislikes Frank is because he perceives the younger man as disrespectful, selfish, shallow, and inconsiderate. Mr. Knightley represents the ideal of manly virtue and English gentlemanliness. He faults Frank for not coming to see his father and new stepmother right away and instead writing charming letters to her so that people will not be angry with him. Mr. Knightley's dislike for Frank is compounded as he watches Frank flirt with Emma.

In the novel Emma, how is the upbringing of Jane Fairfax similar to that of Frank Churchill?

Frank was brought up by his rich relatives, the Churchills, rather than by his parents. His mother died when he was a baby, and his father thought it best to let the childless Churchills raise him as their own son. Jane was orphaned and brought up by her grandmother and aunt. A friend of her father's then took an interest in her education and brought her for visits and holidays, allowing her to become part of his family as well. Therefore, although both characters belong to Highbury, they are also outsiders without a history of strong ties. Additionally, both characters are keeping secrets from the people of Highbury.

Why does Emma think that Jane is attached to her friend's husband, Mr. Dixon?

Emma does not like Jane, so it is not surprising that she would imagine something that puts Jane in a bad light. Jane's good friend, Miss Campbell (the daughter of Jane's benefactors), has married the Irish Mr. Dixon and moved to Ireland. The Dixons have invited the bride's parents and Jane to Ireland for an extended stay, but Jane chooses to come back to Highbury. When Emma hears this from Miss Bates, she immediately jumps to the conclusion that either Jane has seduced Mr. Dixon or that she is pining for him in an unrequited manner. Emma needs to find a reason to think poorly of Jane, who is judged by everyone else as perfect.

In Emma, how does Frank Churchill's relationship with his adoptive parents provide insights into his character?

Frank allows himself to be completely at the mercy of his aunt, Mrs. Churchill, in order to preserve his financial legacy. The Churchills have changed his name so that he can be their heir. His aunt is sickly and manipulative and wants him near her all the time. The extent of her power over Frank is evidenced in the fact that he keeps his engagement to Jane a secret, as he knows she will never allow him to marry Jane. Only when Mrs. Churchill dies at the end of the book does Frank finally ask permission from his uncle to marry. His relationship with his adoptive parents helps to reveal him as a shallow person who is not really worthy of Jane.

How are Emma's and Mr. Knightley's views on the importance of class both similar and different?

Both Emma and Mr. Knightley think it is important to maintain class distinctions, but Emma is a snob and Mr. Knightley is not. For example, Mr. Knightley is concerned that Emma is giving Harriet unrealistic hopes about her ability to marry above her station. He gives Mr. Martin his blessing to marry Harriet because he knows Mr. Martin is in love with her, but he thinks that the advantage of the match is on Harriet's side (meaning Mr. Martin is slightly above Harriet in social standing). Emma is much more rigid about class distinctions and believes that Mr. Martin's profession makes him unfit for Harriet. Thus, Mr. Knightley is focused on people's individual happiness when he thinks about class, while Emma is mostly concerned with maintaining class distinctions as a way of propping up her ego.

In Chapter 25, why does Emma say she won't go to the Coles' for dinner and then change her mind, and what does this show about Emma?

Emma says she will not go to the Coles' for dinner even if she is invited. She claims it is her duty to snub them so that they learn their place with respect to the gentry. She finds it unfortunate that Mr. Knightley and the Westons are attending. However, as soon as she receives an invitation, she allows Mrs. Weston to talk her into going because she doesn't want to be the only one to miss out on the party. This shows that Emma, although she sees herself as the Coles' superior, is willing to associate with them when she learns that her friends of similar social status are doing the same. This doesn't reflect well on Emma, although her desire to be included is a universal emotion.

In Emma, how does the relationship between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax emphasize the theme of class and gender oppression?

Frank's mother was disowned by the Churchills because she married below her station. Mrs. Churchill, Frank's aunt, is a Churchill only by marriage, but as Mr. Weston notes, she has "high and mighty claims." Frank knows that his aunt will never approve a marriage to a penniless girl like Jane, and so he hides their engagement. At the same time, marrying above her station is the only way Jane will be able to escape her future as a governess. She is well-bred and educated, but her lack of money makes her an undesirable marriage prospect.

Why does Frank flirt with Emma even though he is already engaged to Jane?

Frank begins to use Emma as a cover for his attachment to Jane. He finally comes to Highbury after Jane arrives, at least in part so he can spend time with her. Of course, everyone thinks he has come to spend time with his father. He is a handsome man, and Emma is a beautiful, vivacious woman. Frank's strategy is to flirt with Emma so that no one will suspect him of being interested in Jane when he spends time at the home of Jane's aunt and grandmother.

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