Emma and Clueless

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Dona Nguyen

Mrs Sake

Emma and Clueless comparison essay

Amy Heckerling’s post modern teen-flick Clueless, is a cinematic adaptation of Jane Austen’s bildungsroman text Emma. Clueless is identifiable as an adaptation since the thematic morals within Emma have been retained, though the nineteenth century context has been radically modified with the primary purpose of generating appeal to a contemporary audience. The two texts delve into analogous human values in different contexts, satirising the flaws society portray. Character traits and the attitudes in society which they depict in the context of Emma are still evident in the modern context of Clueless. Heckerling also portrays how modern society still values class hierarchy and social structure, yet its depiction is altered. Attitudes towards marriage in the classic have been manipulated to portray how values in relationships have changed over time. The adaptation process enables responders to scrutinize both texts as aesthetic reflections of each other, whilst gaining insights to compare the values of both texts.

Despite the disparity in context, character traits evident in Emma have been adapted into the modern context of Clueless. The characters display traits such as self interest, vanity and superficiality but also demonstrate personal growth and eventual reform. Emma is portrayed as being “handsome, clever, and rich with a comfortable home and happy disposition... with very little to distress or vex her”. The use of third person narrative and tone here is descriptive, yet it seems exaggerated and almost hyperbolic. This overstatement alludes to an imminent conflict in her life causing Emma to undergo a journey of self development.  Austen further establishes this high class social context in “The Woodhouses were first in consequence there. All looked up to them”. The use of diction in the appointing word “consequence” serves to highlight the value Emma places on social status which determines her comprehensive character. Comparatively, Heckerling presents Cher Horowitz as the 20th century equivalent of Austen’s protagonist. In the opening sequence of the film, she conveys an overview of Cher’s lifestyle and outlines the film’s context. This is achieved through filmic techniques such as montage of images depicting scenes from Cher’s school and social environment. Cher’s naivety is proclaimed in the voice over that she is just an ordinary teenage girl with a “way normal life”. An irony is espoused here as the audience views her choosing an outfit on a “fashion coordinating” computer and residing in a luxurious mansion. Like Emma, she is “handsome” and “rich” with a prosperous lifestyle. The superficiality of Clueless is further emphasised via the low camera shot of the mall with stereotypically religious film music in the background, representing the setting as a place for Cher ‘to find sanctuary … gather my thoughts regain my strength.’ Heckerling adapts the Holy Church utilised in Emma as a place of sanctuary to the Mall which complements the modern context. Austen’s characterisation that Heckerling adapts, reshapes and transforms enables contemporary audiences to better understand and appreciate Austen’s character insights through twentieth century equivalents they can relate to.

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The adaptation process allows Heckerling to portray how modern society still values class hierarchy and social structure. Emma, which was written in the context of great social upheaval and revolution, presents a class that concentrated on rigid codes of propriety, wealth, property and status as a means of social valuing. Emma, being born into a wealthy family stands as a member of the elite social class of Highbury. Her importance as a result of her elevated status is represented by the use of formal language where Highbury “offered her no equals.”Heckerling adapts this class structure into Clueless as a system of ...

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