"Social Characteristics of Women in Jane Austen's Emma" Studying Emma, Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton

Essay by lizaUniversity, Bachelor's December 2003

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A Woman's Society in Emma

The social order of women is an extremely debated subject. Jane Austen has a clear picture of a woman's power and her ability to use that power. She feels that power is a necessary part of a male society. Emma written by Jane Austen shows her understanding of the roles of women in a social context. The Highbury society judges women by their wealth, good connections and marriage status in Austen's last novel. Because there was a great deal of new trade, which meant newfound wealth for those of a lesser social status, people judged others based on their gentility. Dr. Delany says that gentility means the degree of favor with the landowning aristocracy. Marriage became a way for society to estimate a person's social status. If a person were wealthy and gentile then society would accept that person but would not look lightly upon until he or she were married.

The characterizations of Emma Woodhouse, Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton show the nature of women from a social perspective of a nineteenth century village.

Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist, comes from a well-established family. Being the daughter of a wealthy landowner, Emma is a promisingly eligible woman because she is young, pretty and educated. The Highbury community regards her father Mr. Henry Woodhouse highly; therefore, Emma herself is regarded highly. Emma helps those that are poor because she feels that it is her duty to help. Even though she helps people of a lower social class, she feels that she is superior. With the idea of superiority, Emma believes she can change the misfortunes of others. One such person is Harriet Smith; Emma tries to induce a match between Harriet, the woman of an ambiguous background, and Mr. Elton a local clergyman. Emma...