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Societal Authority in Jane Austen's Emma

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However much we insist it is not true, our choices, actions, and thoughts are rarely uninfluenced by the conditions we are born into. Our culture and society play a huge role in the person we become, shaping our opinions and worldviews from birth. This truth is illustrated no better than in Jane Austen’s Emma. In Emma, Austen uses narrative style, characterization, and the plot device of word games to illustrate the ever-present power of hierarchical control. Emma's plot seemingly hovers around the superficial theme of strategic matchmaking. But while this is an important aspect of Emma, it serves primarily as a catalyst to illustrate the much bigger idea of societal authority present in the novel.

Word games play a huge role in the plot development of Emma. ". . . Emma is itself a word game, anagrammatic in theme . . . and plot structure" (Grey 181). The word games in Emma involve the matching and rearranging of verbal characters. This mirrors the plot of the book, where characters are matched and rearranged as potential marriage partners. (Grey 181). In the same way that rearranging the alphabet tiles changes their meaning, different pairings in Emma demonstrate different aspects of the individual’s character. The theme of Emma is expressed through the word games by the games’ requirement to adhere to the rules. Emma’s society relies on a strict adherence to the rules dictated by the “middle-class aristocracy” (Grossman 1). Likewise, the word games rely on observation of the rules, and when the rules of the game are broken it usually coincides with breaking of the rules of the social game. Frank and Emma break the social rules when they gossip obviously about Jane Fairfax and mock her attachment to Mr. Dixon by spelling out ...

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