Themes and issues in Emma



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Themes and issues in Emma
Emma is relevant in the 21st century to the reader as it covers many themes: love, marriage, courtship, first impressions, pride, prejudice, happiness, reason, emotion, the need for equilibrium (balance) self-knowledge, gentility, power structures, accomplishment, social values, etc. Ultimately, the focus of the film is the shift in Emma from being preoccupied with maintaining her position as the first lady of Highbury to becoming the ‘first lady’ on a moral scale.
Distortion of vision

Knightley is the moral barometer and we, as viewers, see the characters’ responses through his eyes. He sees the quality of people, as well as their status. Emma has to experience a moral enlightenment, which occurs through Knightley’s guidance. Ironically, it is Frank Churchill’s immoral behaviour that leads to Emma’s understanding of her own heart. She must know her own heart before she can ever understand the hearts of others.
Marriage / Matches

Marriage would confirm and enlarge Emma’s sphere of influence on those around her in Highbury. Emma had no hand in the success of the match between Miss Taylor and Mr Weston, but she gives herself credit for it. Emma is not able to make any successive or successful matches, because she doesn’t understand the hearts of others, including Harriet Smith, Robert Martin, Mr Elton, Jane Fairfax, and Frank Churchill. Marriage is Emma’s reward for her self-knowledge.
The Importance of Self-knowledge
Mr Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them.” Emma comes to see and acknowledge her own fault, in that she was ignorant of her own heart. The film could be described as a ‘bildungsroman’, which is a literature genre wherein the plot follows the development and maturation of the protagonist. Emma does not reflect on her own experiences. This is shown metaphorically in the painting of Harriet Smith, where she paints her taller than she really is.
Social and Moral Responsibilities

Emma is guilty of snobbery and class-consciousness, clearly shown in her dismissal of Robert Martin as a match for Harriet. Knightley, as the moral barometer, points out to Emma that she is no friend to Harriet. Emma is seen at her worst at the Box Hill picnic where her insolence towards Miss Bates shows her lacking in her social and moral responsibilities. As Knightley rightly points out, Miss Bates’ “position should secure (Emma’s) compassion”. True nobility does not come from wealth, it comes from decency in dealing others.


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