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The society of Jane Austen's time and period, being early nineteenth century rural England, marriage was seen as a reflection of social status.

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Introduction

The society of Jane Austen's time and period, being early nineteenth century rural England, marriage was seen as a reflection of social status. It was determined by a combination of family background, reputation, and wealth, it was one of the main ways one could raise their social status. This method of social advancement was crucial to women, who were denied the possibility of improving their status through hard work or personal achievement. Women of nineteenth century England were mainly along the poverty line, surviving only on domestic work. They were not in the position to give any type of viewpoint or opinion that would create an impact but were under the dominion of men. Written in the marriage ceremony was a vow to 'obey' their husbands, which every woman had to swear before God as well as earthly witnesses. Their lives were confined and reduced to the aims of marrying and reproducing. Even if a woman was wealthy, in the majority of cases, marriage stripped her of all her assets and handed them over to her husband. Within the novel, Emma, the confined scope of action gives us a strong sense of the reduced role of a woman's existence during the time. Emma possesses a great deal of intelligence but finds the most worthy use in an attempt to guide the marital destinies of her friends, a project that gets her into trouble. ...read more.

Middle

- But Harriet was less humble, had fewer scruples than formerly. - Her inferiority, whether of mind or situation, seemed little felt. - She had seemed more sensible of Mr. Elton's being to stoop in marrying her, than she now seemed of Mr. Knightley's. - Alas! Was not that her own doing too? Who had been at pains to give Harriet notions of self-consequence but herself? - Who but herself had taught her, that she was to elevate herself if possible, and that her claims were great to a high worldly establishment? - If Harriet, from being humble were grown vain, it were her doing too." It is clear that Harriet's new expectations were a result of Emma "puffing her up". Emma created the problem herself, by only thinking of her own achievements. In her own love for Mr. Knightley, she uses position as a justification to why Harriet must not further in her affections for him. Yet ironically beforehand in Emma's lack of discernment she tried to elevate Harriet into marrying above herself for all practical purposes. Austen uses charades, riddles in the novel that take the form of elaborate wordplay. They symbolize pervasive subtexts that wait to be decoded in character's larger social interactions. In Chapter 9, Mr Elton presents a riddle to Emma and Harriet. ...read more.

Conclusion

You hear nothing but truth from me...Yes you see, you understand my feelings." One of the novel's messages is that such sincere, direct expressions are more valuable than ornate speech. The narrator's indirect description of Emma's response to Knightley- "She spoke then, on being so entreated. What did she say? Just what she ought, of course" - gives the idea that often the most truthful feelings are best expressed through simple speech. Social codes often prevent perfect sincerity in speech, but sincere feelings are a remedy to this problem. Emma ends in the traditional manner of a comedy, with a series of weddings to secure everyone's happiness and reaffirm social ties. It is suggested Emma does revert to her former self rather than develop at the end of the novel, because she exchanges her independence. Instead of marrying a man who is her equal, Emma marries a father figure. Emma and Mr. Knightley's reminiscences about her childhood remind us that his main role in her life has been a figure of authority, this underlines the fact that much of her love for him is as someone who can be depended on to guide her. Austen demonstrates that the happiness of a marriage depends upon the couple's being appropriately matched, rather than one of the parties trying to rise above his or her class background. Although at some points the novel seems to entertain the idea that class distinctions might be unfair or unfortunate, ultimately the novel is decidedly conservative. ...read more.

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