Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 8, 2022
December 1, 2022
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
The narrator introduces Emma to us by emphasizing her
good fortune: “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home
and happy disposition,” Emma “had lived nearly twenty-one years
in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” But, the
narrator warns us, Emma possesses “the power of having rather too
much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of
herself.” Emma’s stubbornness and vanity produce many of the novel’s
conflicts, as Emma struggles to develop emotionally.
Emma makes three major mistakes. First, she attempts
to make Harriet into the wife of a gentleman, when Harriet’s social
position dictates that she would be better suited to the farmer
who loves her. Then, she flirts with Frank Churchill even though
she does not care for him, making unfair comments about Jane Fairfax
along the way. Most important, she does not realize that, rather
than being committed to staying single (as she always claims), she
is in love with and wants to marry Mr. Knightley. Though these mistakes
seriously threaten Harriet’s happiness, cause Emma embarrassment,
and create obstacles to Emma’s own achievement of true love, none
of them has lasting consequences. Throughout the novel, Knightley
corrects and guides Emma; in marrying Knightley, Emma signals that
her judgment has aligned with his.
Austen predicted that Emma would be “a character whom
no one but me will much like.” Though most of Austen’s readers have proven
her wrong, her narration creates many ambiguities. The novel is
narrated using free indirect discourse, which means that, although
the all-knowing narrator speaks in the third person, she often relates
things from Emma’s point of view and describes things in language
we might imagine Emma using. This style of narration creates a complex
mixture of sympathy with Emma and ironic judgment on her behavior.
It is not always clear when we are to share Emma’s perceptions and
when we are to see through them. Nor do we know how harshly Austen
expects us to judge Emma’s behavior. Though this narrative strategy
creates problems of interpretation for the reader, it makes Emma
a richly multidimensional character.
Emma does not have one specific foil, but the implicit
distinctions made between her and the other women in the novel offer
us a context within which to evaluate her character. Jane is similar
to Emma in most ways, but she does not have Emma’s financial independence,
so her difficulties underscore Emma’s privileged nature. Mrs. Elton,
like Emma, is independent and imposes her will upon her friends,
but her crudeness and vanity reinforce our sense of Emma’s refinement
and fundamentally good heart. Emma’s sister, Isabella, is stereo-typically
feminine—soft-hearted, completely devoted to her family, dependent,
and not terribly bright. The novel implicitly prefers Emma’s independence
and cleverness to her sister’s more traditional deportment, although
we are still faced with the paradox that though Emma is clever,
she is almost always mistaken.