The Presence of Art through Morality and Social Roles in Emma 12th Grade

Not all art is moral, but all that is moral is art. Especially art which intends to improve life rather than degrade. Set in the early nineteenth century, Emma by Jane Austen traces the social circles of Highbury—particularly the life of Emma Woodhouse, a wealthy daughter of a gentleman who enjoys matchmaking others but participates little in romance herself. In “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy delves into the nature, state, and purpose of art; above all, Tolstoy remarks that art is not art without moral or emotional intention. Similarly, John Gardner remarks that art must be life-affirming in order to be art. Although Tolstoy and Gardner lived a century apart, their like-minded criteria can evaluate any piece of art—including Emma. Based on Tolstoyan and Gardner’s artistic standards, Emma by Jane Austen would classify as art due to the foil characters to Emma who depict proper moral behavior such as her friend Harriet Smith and acquaintance and rival Jane Fairfax; in addition Emma and Frank Churchill are characters which are not embodiments of ideal moral standards but marry their moral “superiors” which fits the criteria of moral art.

In Emma, Harriet Smith represents the primary foil character to Emma Woodhouse. Though opposite in...

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