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Emma | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Why does it take Emma so long to realize she is in love with Mr. Knightley?

Emma is so used to Mr. Knightley that she takes his presence and love for granted. He is 16 or 17 years her senior, so he has known her since she was a baby. He is a close and intimate family friend. His brother married her sister, so they are connected by marriage. Mr. Knightley has always played the role of an elder brother, correcting her when nobody else will. She knows that he loves her, but because he has never shown any courtship-like behavior, it has never occurred to her that they might have a romantic connection.

Why is Emma overjoyed by Harriet's engagement to Robert Martin?

Emma is overjoyed at Harriet's engagement for several reasons. Twice she has had to tell her friend that the man Harriet desired has asked her—Emma—for her hand in marriage. Emma's meddling in Harriet's life has been unproductive at best and destructive at worst. Now Emma is relieved that the burden of the guilt and sorrow for her meddling has been lifted. She is also relieved that the man she is interested in is not in love with Harriet.

In Emma, why do some characters use carriages, and how do carriages emphasize class boundaries?

Mr. Woodhouse is a self-centered character limited in his interactions with others by his own rigidity and inability to empathize. He always takes carriages to travel. On the other hand, Mr. Knightley rarely uses a carriage. He is an expansive and generous character who, although he respects class boundaries, is not afraid to go outside them, especially to put himself at the disposal of others. Mr. Knightley mostly uses his carriage to help others—for example, when he takes the carriage so that he can bring Jane Fairfax home from the Coles' party. When Emma tries to use her carriage to give Jane Fairfax an airing, she is signifying that she has come over to Mr. Knightley's way of thinking about how to behave decently.

What role does Emma's excessive imagination play in her misreading of other people's motives and desires?

Emma's imagination is at the root of all her problems. It is only when her imagination takes hold of her that she loses all perspective and projects her "story" onto others. First, she imagines that Mr. Elton is in love with Harriet. Next, she decides that Jane Fairfax has some attachment to her friend's husband, Mr. Dixon, and she shares her outrageous suspicions with none other than Jane's fiancé (although she doesn't know that Jane and Frank are engaged). Finally, she completely misreads her friend Harriet's crush on Mr. Knightley because she has decided that Harriet must have fallen in love with Frank when he rescued her from the gypsies. Emma herself knows that her imagination gets her into trouble. Having never been truly in love herself, she is blind to the nuances of true love and courtship.

In Emma, in which ways does Mr. Knightley represent the perfect example of the English gentleman?

Mr. Knightley is knightly: upright, honest in all of his dealings, generous, and responsible. He owns more land than anyone around Highbury, and he earns his money by having his land farmed. His family has been at Donwell Abbey for generations, so he is a perfect specimen of the landed gentry. Mr. Knightley takes his responsibilities as one of the privileged class very seriously. He looks out for Emma and his neighbors, he takes care of the people who work for him, and he enters into all of the social activities of Highbury.

How is the theme of self-development as a path to self-knowledge reflected in Emma's character development?

Emma is called handsome, clever, and rich on the first page of the novel, but she is also identified as someone "having rather too much her own way." Everyone dotes on Emma, except for Mr. Knightley, who loves her but sees her faults and points them out. Emma has had a haphazard upbringing from a permissive governess, so she has not been taught that privileged people have more responsibility than commoners. Emma carelessly gets involved with someone below her in class, meddling in her life and almost ruining her chances at a good marriage. After subsequent blunders, Emma takes stock of herself and begins to change. A thoughtless heroine who nevertheless has a generous heart, Emma begins to think more about what other people need, rather than what she thinks they need.

How does the novel Emma demonstrate the importance of marriage as the linchpin of civilized society?

Marriage is the linchpin of society for the obvious reason that marriage is the institution whereby people have children and pass down property. However, class structure imposes many rules and regulations on marriage. The novel shows multiple men and women involved in negotiating class status and economic needs while they try to find happiness with a compatible and sympathetic mate.

In the novel Emma, why are letters so important, and what do they communicate?

Letters are important in the world of Regency England because they are the "technology" that people use to communicate when they are at a distance from one another. The ability to write a good letter is valued. Letters are passed around so that friends and neighbors can hear about the lives and doings of people they care about. Letters important to the plot of Emma include Frank's missive to his stepmother, through which he holds off his visit and still remains in her good graces, and Robert Martin's letter of proposal to Harriet. The only letter included in the novel is Frank Churchill's, in which he explains to Mrs. Weston (but also to Emma and her circle) why he kept his engagement a secret.

In Emma, how are women shown to be severely limited in their choices?

The dearth of choices for women is part of the novel's larger theme of how both class and gender create tremendous restraints. Jane Austen would not have used the word oppression, perhaps, but she illustrates the oppression of women very clearly. A single woman without means is at the mercy of her family and community, as Emma so deftly points out. A woman of the middle class who cannot find a spouse might have to become a governess, as Jane Fairfax is planning to do after she calls off her engagement. The life of a governess was full of hardship, as these women were at the mercy of their employers as members of a somewhat indeterminate class. When Harriet turns down Robert Martin's proposal, there is little chance she will find someone suitable to marry, and thus she might find herself in the unfortunate position of Miss Bates, who must rely on the charity of her neighbors. Even a woman of means had to be wary of fortune hunters such as Mr. Elton, who wants to marry Emma merely to elevate himself.

In Emma, what qualities does Mrs. Elton have that make her a comic character?

Mrs. Elton, née Miss Augusta Hawkins, has been called a parody of Emma by some critics. She is self-centered, pompous, condescending, mean-spirited, and conceited. Mrs. Elton gets some of the funniest lines in the novel. For example, Mrs. Elton comments, "I am a great advocate for timidity." And when Mrs. Elton meets Frank Churchill at the ball, she says, "So truly the gentleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike for puppies." In a way, she is like an evil Emma. She speaks judgmentally, the difference being in her intention.

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