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Emma Theme of Marriage
As one of the characters says early on, marriage is an agent of change. For women in Austen’s time, marriage was one of the only ways of changing your lifestyle. It’s no wonder that so much of the novel is devoted to imagining (and re-imagining) different potential matches. Marriage here isn’t just about love, however. Questions of love are complicated by money, family, land and social status, all of which come into play whenever Emma attempts to arrange marriages – including her own. Austen emphasizes the social aspects of marriage in order to expose the economic and class dynamics of romantic love.
Courtship and marriage
As in all of Austen’s novels, courtship and marriage play major roles in “Emma.” The entire novel is structured around various courtships and romantic connections, from Harriet and Robert Martin to Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill to Emma and Mr. Knightley. All of the conflicts in the novel also revolve around this topic, particularly in terms of characters striving to find appropriate matches. In this way, Austen presents marriage as a fundamental aspect of society during the time period. While marriage promotes families and serves romantic purposes, it also upholds the class structure of the community by ensuring that individuals marry appropriately (such as Harriet and Robert Martin, who are in the same class). At the same time, Austen also uses marriage to highlight the social limitations faced by Emma and other characters: in their small village, marriage and courtship are the sole catalysts of excitement or conflict.
Emma: Theme Analysis
The dominant theme of Emma is marriage, and all of the major activities of the novel revolve around marriage and matchmaking. The novel begins with Emma and her father talking about the marriage of Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston, and ends with the marriages of Harriet and Mr. Martin, Emma and Mr. Knightley and Jane and Mr. Churchill. In between are more marriages and attempts at matchmaking.
Emma believes that she made the match between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston, and so she sets out to make other matches, none of which work. She tries to form a relationship between Harriet and Mr. Elton, but this backfires when Mr. Elton proposes to her instead. When he says that he would never be interested in Harriet and marries another woman, Emma thinks that Frank Churchill is the right man for Harriet, but Harriet has her mind set on Mr. Knightley. Harriet ends up marrying Mr. Martin, whom Emma had encouraged her against in the beginning.
Emma believes that Frank Churchill is in love with her and attempts to switch his love from her to Harriet, but in the end it is revealed that he has in fact been engaged to Jane the whole time. Emma determines not to meddle in other people's affairs any longer when she realizes how wrong she had been about all of her attempted matchmaking. In the end she even realizes that she had not been able to read her own feelings, and that she is in love with Mr. Knightley. It is only when Emma concentrates on herself instead of others that she is able to find true love.
Another of Emma's themes is class relations. Jane Austen's England was filled with class structures, and her novel based on a small, early-nineteenth century social circle cannot help but reflect this. There are many discussions of people and their stations, people being more superior to others and people trying to rise above their sphere. Some examples of this are Emma not wanting Harriet to marry Mr. Martin and Mr. Elton not wanting to marry Harriet. Emma and Mr. Knightley have some discussions about this as well, mostly in relation to Harriet, but also in relation to Miss Bates. Emma is quite absorbed in the impact that class has on who she can and cannot associate with and under what circumstances. This can be seen in the novel especially in regards to her thoughts about the Coles and her views about Mr. Martin and his family.