The word game the party plays in Chapter 41 functions as a metaphor for all the games of private concealment and revelation that characterize Highbury society. Emma and Mr. Knightley are both able to decode the words that Frank makes, but, because they possess different kinds of information, they interpret these words differently. Knightley understands that the word “blunder” must refer to Frank’s misplaced question to Mrs. Weston about Mr. Perry’s carriage, a message that Emma is unable to decode. Emma interprets “Dixon” as a cruel joke on Jane, but Knightley rightly understands that Frank’s presentation of the word to Jane is a mark of some intimacy between them. When Knightley observes to himself, “These letters were but the vehicle for gallantry and trick. It was a child’s play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill’s part,” he makes explicit the novel’s suggestion that social intercourse is a game with particular rules. Like a game, social interaction requires skill and sometimes produces winners and losers.
Although the narrator typically describes all events from Emma’s point of view, Chapter 41 is unique in that it is narrated entirely from Mr. Knightley’s point of view, depending on what he can see of the word games transpiring in the parlor. By shifting to Mr. Knightley’s point of view, we get a new perspective on the mixture of knowledge and bewilderment that each character experiences. This new emphasis on Mr. Knightley’s character and point of view subtly alerts us that he is becoming a central character.