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Emma by Jane Austen

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Analyse the ways in which Jane Austen presents a hierarchical nature within 'Emma' Jane Austen's 'Emma' is a novel of courtship. Like all Austen's novels, the plot is centred around marriage: who will marry who? For what reasons will they marry: love, practicality or necessity? The novel is also strongly themed through the notions of social hierarchy, a permanent, virtually impermeable and quintessentially English theme, alluded to throughout the plot. Emma's society was governed by strict rules of adherence to rank and place with emphasis on proper etiquette and social graces. At the centre of the story is Emma Woodhouse, an heiress living with her widowed father at their estate, Hartfield. We are introduced to Emma as "handsome, clever, and rich" - which sets the tone for the rest of the novel. But these three adjectives used to depict Emma imply Jane Austen's bitterness towards the decadent upper classes. The hierarchical structure within 'Emma' is very clear; there are the upper class, privileged, landed heirs who need not do anything to support themselves, the middle class working men and then the lower class farmers. The families that represent the lower class are the Martins and the Bateses and also Harriet Smith. The Eltons and Westons make up the middle class and the Woodhouses and the Knightleys are the very upper class. ...read more.


refuse his acceptable hand in marriage - "Those soft blue eyes...should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury and its connections." As we see the story mostly through Emma's eyes, the reader automatically sees Robert Martin as of lower, inferior class. This is not helped as Emma describes him as, "so very clownish, so totally without air." and a "very inferior creature." As Emma is constantly putting Robert down this evokes sympathy from the reader for the lower classes and also highlights how Emma and the upper class deem themselves to be superior to and above the Martins. Next up on the social ladder is the middle class, which is represented ironically by Reverend Philip and Augusta Elton. Before Mr. Elton was married, he professed his adoration for Emma. Mr. Elton obviously intended to move up in society and was primarily interested in marrying Emma for her social position, family's status and wealth. However, when he returns to Highbury with his new wife Augusta, who is a vapid name-dropper, who compares everything to the supposedly grand life-styles of her relatives, they both see themselves as far superior to Highbury's other inhabitants, even though they are merely middle class citizens. Augusta continually places herself above others and boasts about her horses being faster than others, "our coachmen and horses are so expedious! ...read more.


Harriet generally refers to Emma as "Miss Woodhouse" whereas Emma refers to Harriet as "Harriet"; this reminds the reader that Emma is superior. However, the friendship does little good for either of them. Harriet indulges Emma's worst qualities, giving her the opportunity to meddle and serving only to flatter her. Emma in turn fills Harriet Smith with grand pretentions that so not suit her low situation in society. Mr, George Knightley, another upper class citizen and friend of the Woodhouses, and is the epitome of an English gentleman. He is greatly admired and looked up to, especially by Emma - "You might not see one in a hundred with gentlemen so plainly written as in Mr. Knightley." - As Emma respect and then loves him, so therefore does the reader, Jane Austen's portrayal of England's class structure in 1816 through 'Emma' presents the idea that there are three distinct social classes: the poor or lower class; the working or middle class; and the elite or upper class. Even though there are three dissimilar social classes which are embedded into a strict hierarchy, all three join together in harmony to create the essence of Highbury. The elite arrange social engagements, the middle class attend them and the lower class provide the much needed contrast, all of which combine to create and capture the society that Austen inhabited. Amy Preston ...read more.

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