Social Hierarchy

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An important consideration in Emma and, Jane Austen's novels in general, is social status, particularly when it concerns marriage. Part of the reason that Mr. Weston's first marriage failed is that he married a woman who was accustomed to a different life style. Although the marriage benefited Mr. Weston socially, he suffered from his wife's inability to lower herself to his level. The story also details some peculiar aspects of marriage and courtship during the time period: in this case, Miss Churchill’s parents took offense to her choice of partner and promptly cut her off without any inheritance. This severe decision foreshadows some of the problems that Frank Churchill will encounter from his family when he decides to marry, especially if he chooses a woman who is not deemed to be his equal.

Another recurring theme in the novel is the relationship between profession and social status. Mr. Weston is below only the Woodhouses and Mr. Knightley in terms of social rank in Highbury, but this was not always the case. Mr. Weston had to climb the social hierarchy, moving from the military up to trade and then finally establishing himself as the owner of an estate. Other than the nobility, the highest members of British society were people who had owned property and did not have an actual profession. Working, whether as a clergyman or governess or merchant, denotes a lower social rank.