Despite contextual differences, Jane Austen's novel Emma (1815) and Amy Heckerling's film Clueless (1995) reflect similar attitudes and values regarding gender and class. Emma is set in a period where social hierarchy was largely based on birthright; whereas Clueless is set in the American city, Beverly Hills, dominated by a capitalist consumer culture. Both texts explore the nature of the class system, the association between relationships and social order, and the role of men and women.
Personality is influenced by one's social position. Emma, being a bildungsroman, traces the moral development of the protagonist, Emma Woodhouse, as she confronts social dilemmas. It is set in the European high society of Highbury. The novel opens with a marriage and ends with more marriages, a romantic convention appealing to a female audience. During the early 19th century, mainly women from the middle to upper classes could read. The setting and form target a certain audience, allowing Austen to effectively challenge the preconceptions of higher class women.
Emma represents the stereotypical upper class lady: attractive, respectable and wealthy. She actively participates in matchmaking, leading her to a series of moral tests. Emma displays unrespectable traits, including her jealousy of Jane Fairfax and dismissal of the poor. Despite recognising the hardships of the working class, she often ignores them, not realising that her power is due to the existence of the lower social classes. She reveals arrogance and deceit: "she was not… sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved". Although she appears to be an accomplished lady, she lacks virtue and skill.
Harriet and Miss Bates invalidate Emma's comment: "a sing...
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...e not seen such good-doing since your mother". His rhetorical questions draw attention to the social expectations of women. Finally, the reference to her mother suggests that female achievement is based in the household. Both texts propose that it is a woman's responsibility to look after their household and be subservient to males.
Jane Austen's novel Emma (1815) and Amy Heckerling's film Clueless (1995) have, to a large extent, maintained similar values regarding gender and class; although due to contextual differences, their manifestations have been altered to a certain degree. Both texts inform their respective audiences of the dynamic nature of the class system, the importance of social class in relationships, and the patriarchy prominent in society. Austen and Heckerling demonstrate that attitudes and values can remain the same, despite the contextual changes.