Emma Themes Essay

Of course, discussing the "main theme" of any novel is a task fraught with problems, as it is very difficult to decide on the "main theme" of any text, as it is a highly subjective question. However, for me, in this novel of Austen's, one cannot escape the way that the plot and characters lead towards a message about growing up and marriage. We are presented with a Miss Emma Woodhouse who at the beginning...

Of course, discussing the "main theme" of any novel is a task fraught with problems, as it is very difficult to decide on the "main theme" of any text, as it is a highly subjective question. However, for me, in this novel of Austen's, one cannot escape the way that the plot and characters lead towards a message about growing up and marriage. We are presented with a Miss Emma Woodhouse who at the beginning of the novel is immature. She makes many mistakes; she shows herself to be a social snob; she meddles unnecessarily and intrusively into the lives of other people with tragic consequences. However, partly because of some of these mistakes and the humiliating and painful consequences that she suffers, and partly because of the patient and loving guidance of Mr. Knightley, we see a very different Emma at the end of the tale. Emma grows up throughout the novel more and more to have a self-understanding about herself that is shown to yield maturity. It is only when she reaches this state of being self-aware, and of course part of this self-awareness is the realisation that she loves George Knightley, that she is shown to be ready for marriage.

Thus the novel has much to say about the process by which we mature, self-knowledge and how these two concepts are linked to marriage.

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The dominant theme of Emma is marriage, and all of the major activities of the novel revolve around marriage and matchmaking.  The novel begins with Emma and her father talking about the marriage of Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston, and ends with the marriages of Harriet and Mr. Martin, Emma and Mr. Knightley and Jane and Mr. Churchill.  In between are more marriages and attempts at matchmaking. 
Emma believes that she made the match between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston, and so she sets out to make other matches, none of which work.  She tries to form a relationship between Harriet and Mr. Elton, but this backfires when Mr. Elton proposes to her instead.  When he says that he would never be interested in Harriet and marries another woman, Emma thinks that Frank Churchill is the right man for Harriet, but Harriet has her mind set on Mr. Knightley.  Harriet ends up marrying Mr. Martin, whom Emma had encouraged her against in the beginning. 
Emma believes that Frank Churchill is in love with her and attempts to switch his love from her to Harriet, but in the end it is revealed that he has in fact been engaged to Jane the whole time.  Emma determines not to meddle in other people's affairs any longer when she realizes how wrong she had been about all of her attempted matchmaking.  In the end she even realizes that she had not been able to read her own feelings, and that she is in love with Mr. Knightley.  It is only when Emma concentrates on herself instead of others that she is able to find true love.
Another of Emma's themes is class relations. Jane Austen's England was filled with class structures, and her novel based on a small, early-nineteenth century social circle cannot help but reflect this.  There are many discussions of people and their stations, people being more superior to others and people trying to rise above their sphere.  Some examples of this are Emma not wanting Harriet to marry Mr. Martin and Mr. Elton not wanting to marry Harriet.  Emma and Mr. Knightley have some discussions about this as well, mostly in relation to Harriet, but also in relation to Miss Bates.  Emma is quite absorbed in the impact that class has on who she can and cannot associate with and under what circumstances.  This can be seen in the novel especially in regards to her thoughts about the Coles and her views about Mr. Martin and his family.

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