Answers 1Add Yours
Austen highlights the theme of social class throughout the novel, particularly in terms of Emma’s relationship with Harriet Smith. As a member of the wealthiest family in Highbury, Emma holds the highest social position in the community. While she interacts with other characters at an equal level (such as Mr. Knightley), she also has social responsibilities to less fortunate individuals, such as Miss Bates, Harriet Smith, and the poor families who live on her estate. Yes, while Austen encourages compassion and charity in members of the higher classes, she also maintains the importance of class distinctions. One of Emma’s biggest mistakes is taking the lower-class Harriet Smith and bringing her to an almost equal social level. While Harriet is a benevolent character, Austen asserts that she is not an appropriate member of high society and, in fact, would never be accepted if it were not for Emma’s influence. As a result of this confusion of classes, Harriet develops inappropriate expectations for marriage and her future and thus risks being rejected from her own peers, such as the Martin family. Austen also uses Mr. Weston’s first marriage as an example of this: because Mr. Weston’s first wife was from a higher social class, she was unable to adjust to his lower standard of living, and the marriage was ultimately an unhappy one.