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In Emma, Jane Austen uses the interaction of characters to speak volumes about moral obligation, class disputes and the maturing of one's view over time.

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Introduction

In Emma, Jane Austen uses the interaction of characters to speak volumes about moral obligation, class disputes and the maturing of one's view over time. This is best highlighted by Emma Woodhouse's evolving relationship with George Knightley. By novels end, it is clear that Knightley is the only character sufficiently equipped to tame the wilder, more caustic aspects of Emma's nature. When we are introduced to her, Emma is selfish, egotistic and spoilt, yet oblivious to these uglier aspects of her own personality. While refined and fundamentally kind-hearted, Emma is "(disposed) to think a little too well of herself." (p.7) This contrast between Emma's sweet spirit and vainly stubborn opinions creates much of the conflict in the novel. Through Austen's use of foreshadowing and symbolism, it soon becomes clear that Emma will need to learn a lesson and receive her comeuppance, but how? She does not learn from her disappointing efforts to change Harriet Smith into the wife of an upper class gentleman and does not see that young Harriet would be better suited for any common man that truly loves her. ...read more.

Middle

Elton down from her high horse, and even knowingly puts himself in situations with others he strongly dislikes. So while Emma speaks her mind too openly, blurting out thoughts tactlessly, Knightley shows considerable goodwill, patience and restraint. These qualities are ones that he attempts to make Emma aware of in hopes that she will adopt some of them herself. Consistent with her character however, Emma is very slow to catch on to this, preferring to ignore any social obligation in favour of remaining in her comfort zone; being a well-bred know-it-all who is right all the time. For the majority of the novel, Knightley acts as more than simple love interest. He is her mentor, her spirit guide and her conscience. By pointing out and correcting her mistakes, Knightley guides Emma to being a better human. "How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman her character, age, and situation?" ...read more.

Conclusion

Knightley must marry no one but herself!" (p.382) By this point, Emma has begun to think of herself as the only woman who should marry Knightley, as no one else could possibly be fit for such a noble task. By the end of the novel it has become clear that Emma's moral evolution keeps similar pace with Knightley's criticisms of her actions. She grows as both character and woman under his influence. Simply, in order for her to find true happiness, she must set aside her arrogance and snobbishness, the very traits that stand in the way of blossoming romance. Knightley helps Emma to judge others by more than their status and through his patient guidance and gentle reprimanding she begins her journey of self improvement. This journey produces the most powerful of her emotions; jealousy, insecurity and eventually a selflessness and pure happiness that she had never thought she wanted. In this way, George Knightley is truly the only man strong enough to win over the heart of stubborn Emma Woodhouse. (word count 828) ...read more.

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