In Jane Austen's Emma the eponymous heroine is "handsome, clever, and rich" but she also suffers from arrogance and self-deception. With the good judgement of Mr Knightley, and her own self scrutiny, Emma experiences a movement of psyche, from arrogance and vanity through the humiliation of self knowledge to clarity of judgement and fulfilment in marriage. The tone of the novel and the episodes where Emma is self deceived progresses from the light comedy of Mr Elton's gallantry and the eventual mortification to the sombre depression of Emma's belief that she has ruined her own chances of happiness by bringing Mr Knightley and Harriet together. Although at times the reader is able to laugh at her mistakes, as she moves slowly and uncertainly to self knowledge and maturity, the reader, like Mr Knightley, comes to take her seriously, for in the novel serious moral and social issues are dealt with, issues which directly concern her. While we may be 'put off' by her mistakes, and flights of illogical fancy, these are also the very qualities which endear her to us.
Perhaps the only character in the novel who takes Emma seriously is Mr Knightley. As the moral centre of the book, he has is an exemplar of good judgement and Emma's moral tutor. He has Emma's interests at heart and a genuine concern about her moral development. Not blinded by egotism or vanity, honest in all his dealings with her, Mr Knightley exposes Emma's faults for what they are, and helps to reader to see this. Under his influence, Emma comes to an awareness about her own mistakes and blunders, and finally attains the maturity to be able to find fulfilment in marriage. Though she defies him on many occasions, she has a "sort of habit...
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...her mistakes have potentially harmful outcomes. She cannot be taken as a character who can be dismissed, her opinions and actions disregarded. But despite being 'put off' by some of her less becoming attributes, these are the characteristics which make Emma so unique as a heroine and by the end of the novel the readers too, rejoice in the "perfect happiness of the union" between Emma and Mr Knightley.
Works Cited and Consulted
Austen, Jane. Emma. 1972. Norton Critical ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company,1993
Graham, Peter W. "Emma's Three Sisters" Arizona Quarterly vol 43 no.1 (1987): 39-52
Litz, A. Walton. "Limits of Freedom: Emma" Emma. 1972. Norton Critical ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993, 369-377
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. "Women & Boredom: The Two Emmas" Yale Journal of Criticism vol.2 no. 2 (1989): 191-205
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