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"Emma is a novel about youth through self-knowledge." Discuss.

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Introduction

"Emma is a novel about youth through self-knowledge." Discuss. The learning processes that are experienced through youth often lead to greater self-knowledge. This idea is readily demonstrated in Jane Austen's "Emma" where the protagonist is established as an esteemed individual, living in the comfort and indulgence consequent of the limitations of her rural society. It is only when Emma opens herself to new experiences that she matures from one who lacks self-knowledge to a fulfilment of self-knowledge. The various events that occur ultimately challenge her viewpoint of the world she lives in. Emma's dealings with befriending and matchmaking Harriet and her misinterpretation of clues given by Mr Elton and Frank Churchill are events which lead her to first lose confidence in her judgement and which later propels her to greater self-knowledge. Mr Knightley is a key figure in her process of change, leading her to a greater acceptance of others' viewpoints. At the beginning of Austen's novel, Emma Woodhouse is established as the central character of the novel who suffers from a lack of good judgement and awareness of the world she lives in. Austen establishes this idea through her opening sentence, conveying the idea that Emma is "handsome, clever, and rich". The responder is given the impression that she thinks rather too well of herself as she has "been mistress of his house from a very early period". We are told that she has been spoiled and indulged by "a most affectionate, indulgent father" and governess whose "shadow of authority being now long passed away". ...read more.

Middle

Consequently, Emma's ignorance and lack of self awareness leads her to humiliation when she discovers Mr Elton's feigned interest in Harriet as a way of getting closer to Emma: "I am very much astonished, Mr Elton. This to me! ... Mr Elton, this is the most extraordinary conduct!" As Emma's plans go awry she demonstrates newfound signs of maturity through a greater degree of self-examination. She realises her mistakes and attempts to improve them as well as accepting responsibility for them. Emma's superficiality dissipates slightly and she learns not to make assumptions or judge on appearance. Likewise, Emma's overconfidence in her ability to judge leads her astray in her acquaintance with Frank Churchill. Without meeting Frank Churchill, Emma makes assumptions that she cannot support as when she refers to him as an "amiable young man". Again, Emma disregards Mr Knightley's good judgement. Emma's subjectiveness and tendency to favour Frank Churchill as well as her ever ready willingness to defend him on any grounds clouds her from viewing him from an unprejudiced perspective. This is demonstrated when Frank Churchill ridiculously travels to London "merely to have his hair cut". Austen sums up Emma's opinion on this "There was certainly no harm in his travelling sixteen miles twice over on such an errand." Emma is blind to Frank's "vanity, extravagance, love of change" and "restlessness of temper". These perceived self-indulgent qualities later manifest itself on the protagonist. Emma's worst qualities are indulged and fuelled by Frank Churchill's feigned interest in her. ...read more.

Conclusion

From this, Emma is able to trust Mr Knightley's good judgement while aiding the development of her own. Emma has transformed from a simple individual to a complex one who respects and accepts others' viewpoints. This is evidenced in her withdrawal from affairs concerning Harriet Smith's intimacy with Robert Martin. Emma starts to perceive things from a neutral perspective, and exercises her privileges for the greater good of her friend, rather than herself. She does not hesitate to admit her faults but instead, corrects them accordingly: "You need not be at any pains to reconcile me to the match. I think Harriet is doing extremely well. Her connexions may be worse than his. In respectability of character, there can be no doubt that they are." Ultimately, Emma has grown through the learning processes of youth to attain self-knowledge. The various events that occur during the course of the novel develop Emma into a rounded individual who possesses a wealth of self-knowledge. This was not achieved without the aid of new experiences that penetrated the stability in her life, largely through the limitations presented by Highbury society. Emma's overconfidence in her own judgement and her misinterpretation of clues given by Mr Elton and Frank Churchill, are important learning processes in Emma's education. With the good judgement of Mr Knightley and her own self scrutiny, Emma is provided with the impetus to improve on her faults. Her growth to maturity and correct judgement ultimately leads to an attainment of greater self-knowledge. In balance, it can be seen through the character of Emma Woodhouse that "Emma" is blatantly a novel about youth through self-knowledge. ...read more.

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