Jessica M. Natale
Jane Austen’s Emma, Volume I
On the surface level, Emma, appears to be a novel about the affections
of love and one’s struggle to find a mate for life. However, another theme
jointly exists with the previously mentioned motif, which is Emma’s, the
heroine’s, struggle with her self-deception. Emma’s life has been hitherto
relatively constant and comfortable. The recent marriage of her governess,
disrupted her life but she accepted it as a fact of life. I think is interesting
to see here how a natural part of life, i.e. marriage, should so violently
disturb the lives of Emma and Mr. Woodhouse, who is in particular a fanatical
status-quo character. Emma’s self-image is quite strong and is doubly very
pleased with her match-making skills, as she believes that she is responsible
for the marriage of her governess to Mr. Weston. However, Emma’s illusion
of the control she believes to hold over her own world is forever altered
when she decides to handle the match-maker duties for her new friend Harriet.
Harriet, a young girl of unknown lineage, is a student at Mrs. Goddard’s
school. Emma sees the reformation and refinement of Harriet as a challenge,
as she aspires to see Harriet marry a person in a higher social station.
In this instance, Emma is acting in contradiction to her own philosophy,
and indeed the eighteenth-century belief, that people should marry within
their own social class. She deludes herself that perhaps Harriet’s parents
may have been of some importance and therefore resolves to marry her to
a higher status in life. This delusion stems directly from Emma’s willful
and determined imagination. Emma’s determined plans, which contradict her
own beliefs and thwart the natural selection process of a mate, provide
the plot for the early plot of the book and indeed for the greater part
of the novel, by having Emma incur unexpected and unpleasant surprises.
This plot pits the two main protagonists, Emma and George Knightley,
against each other. Emma represents impulsive and willful imagination,
whereas Knightley stands for order, rational thinking and an equanimous
state of being. This clash is universally telling of many human relationships,
which can be symbolized by the characteristics of the two protagonists.
Emma and Knightly each represent the two extremes of human emotion from
which most persons are suited, whether it be at the opposite poles or somewhere
in the middle. Emma continually deepens her self-deception by refusing
to notice the clues that Mr. Elton has been leaving her, which disprove
Emma’s hopes of his interests in Harriet but rather reveal his feelings
for Emma, herself. Her strong emotions cloud her judgments. Every undesired
result of an action she has served to act as the catalyst, drives her further
into frustration and despair. However, Austen still paints Emma in a kind
light, by writing about Emma’s charitable visit to the impoverished family.
The beginning of Emma’s self-revelation begins in chapter XV. In this chapter, Emma realizes Mr. Elton’s disinterest in Harriet and attraction to herself instead. Emma was truly hurt and shocked by his declaration of love. She sincerely believed in her charades. Emma, however, maintains superb outward control when she conversing with Elton, especially considering that Emma can see reality for what it is. She must now come to terms with the realities of the predicament she has created. Emma, most importantly, must admit her self-deception and flaws in her previously revered abilities. She does indeed accepts her error and resolves to remedy Harriet’s situation.
(Goya, Gapsar Melchor de Jovellanos, 1798)
This painting embodies my view of
Austen’s depiction of human emotion.