Early in the book, Emma tells Harriet she doesn’t plan to marry. But the other women all embody, in one way or another, the serious economic consequences of staying single. The book is filled with women at risk. Discuss with reference to: Miss Bates, Jane
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Oppression of women
As a heroine, Emma possesses beauty, wealth, intelligence, high social standing, and financial independence. However, Austen makes it clear that Emma is unique in her position; most of the women in the novel lack Emma’s financial independence and, as a result, have much more limited options for their futures. This speaks to the ingrained oppression of women in British society at the time. Most occupations were deemed inappropriate for women (akin to prostitution), which left women almost incapable of supporting themselves independently. Jane Fairfax is presented as an example of this ingrained oppression of women. Although she possesses all of the same personal qualities as Emma, she lacks the wealth that could give her financial and social security. The only options available for her are marriage or becoming a governess. Most of the other female characters in the novel are faced with a similar choice: Harriet Smith can either marry or continue to work at Mrs. Goddard’s school; Mrs. Weston only marries Mr. Weston after working as Emma’s governess. Although Emma is luckier than most, even she has limited options for her future: she can either marry or become a wealthy spinster. Ironically, Austen herself had to submit to this ingrained oppression: because she never married and could not publicly claim her novels, she was dependent on her family for support.