The Reader’s Response To Emma Is Often A Mixture Of Sympathy And Impatience
Continually throughout Emma the reader feels a mixture of sympathy and impatience for its main character Emma Woodhouse. The novel illustrates her vast change in maturity, which occurs in one year. Due to Emma’s personality and disposition she will always get herself into difficult circumstances, but it is the way she reacts to the circumstances that broadens and matures her character. The first episode takes place throughout the whole of volume one, where she is in the throws of naivety, and the other is in volume three, which is where Emma has begun to mature and grow.
One of the classic episodes in Emma when the reader feels impatience and sympathy for Emma Woodhouse, is when she gets herself involved in matchmaking Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. Throughout this episode the reader becomes so frustrated with Emma for not noticing certain signs that seem to be so obvious to the reader and Emma’s friend Mr. Knightley. Emma tricks the idea of matchmaking two people so different from one another out of her active imagination. When Emma takes Harriet Smith under her wing she has an almost selfish motive, as she needs a companion now that her governess has been married.
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Although Harriet is the ‘natural daughter of somebody,’ Emma feels that she can use Harriet as her project. Emma implores Harriet to disregard her romance with Mr. Martin and tells her that Robert Martin is below her and that she must disassociate herself from any connection that would lower her status further and feels that ‘if she were not taken care of, she might be required to sink herself for ever. ‘ When Harriet actually gets proposed to by Mr. Martin, Emma is able to manipulate Harriet into making what Emma feels is the right decision.
Emma claims she did not advise Harriet in any way, ‘not in the world would I advise you either way,’ and then she says, ‘well it would have grieved me to lose your acquaintance. ‘ The reader becomes increasingly impatient with Emma when she subtly persuades Harriet to refuse Robert Martin’s proposal. She even dictates the answer, and here she is becoming too involved with Harriet’s affairs. Even though Emma takes over the narration from Jane Austen, the reader is able to see through Emma’s faults and see that Robert Martin is a very amiable man who would make a very good husband for Harriet.
Emma ends up writing Harriet’s refusal and this sparks off further impatience because now Harriet, who is doting on Emma’s every word, is turning into a product of what Emma has told her rather than her true self. Emma also refuses to heed Mr. Knightley’s warnings when he states that, ‘men of sense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives,’ obviously referring to Harriet. Emma is so wrapped up in her created fantasy world that she fails to recognise the fact that Mr. Elton is unlikely to lower himself to be with Harriet.
Emma thinks that she is right and her self-confidence and pride prevent her from listening to an objective source. Whenever Harriet seemed about to think or talk of Robert Martin, Emma made her think of Mr. Elton and so the infatuation grew. Without fully realising it, Emma may have destroyed the possible relationship between Harriet and Mr. Martin. In her eagerness to bring her two targets together, Emma does not check herself in her actions towards Mr. Elton and it therefore becomes apparent to the reader that Mr. Elton actually seeks Emma as his bride and not Harriet.
Even Mr. Knightley’s brother, Mr. John Knightley hints to Emma that, ‘he seems to have a great deal of good will towards you,’ and the reader knows that this statement is correct yet Emma stills fails to see it. Even when she told Mr. Elton that Harriet would not be attending the party on Christmas Eve due to a severe cold, Mr. Elton did not seem very concerned, he was only imperative that Emma should not catch the cold off Harriet. The party at Randalls is the brink of impatience for the reader. Emma is so obviously mistaken about Mr. Elton’s feelings for Harriet despite her attempts to secure their love. Mr. Elton spends the whole night around her and interrupting her conversations. Emma felt that throughout the whole evening, ‘he was too close to her,’ and ‘perhaps he was beginning to transfer his affections. ‘ Finally she is beginning to realise Mr. Elton’s intent. It is now that the reader begins to sympathise with her as Mr. Elton’s obvious affection for her is becoming suffocating. Although Emma has worked her way into her own mess, the reader knows she was doing it out of good intent.
When Mr. Elton proposes to her in the carriage Emma did not see it coming. At this point Emma feels two things, she feels incredibly angry that Mr. Elton would ever consider asking her to marry him, ‘she thought nothing of his attachment; and was insulted by his hopes. He wanted to marry well, and having the arrogance to raise his eyes to her. ‘ Emma is at the height of her arrogance in this episode and the reader begins to wonder why it is fine for Harriet to marry Mr. Elton and not Emma, and it is also at this point when Emma’s snobbery is shown in full light.
Emma also feels remorse and extreme pity for Harriet, as it is her fault that Harriet even had the notion of signalling out Mr. Elton as a prospective suitor, ‘such a blow for Harriet that was the worst of all every part of it brought pain and humiliation. ‘ The reader can sympathise with Emma as she was nai??ve and didn’t realise the effects of her actions, but her refusal to listen to advice and her persistence in meddling with the lives of others caused the situation in which she found herself. In regards to Mr. Elton, Emma was living in this dream world, which she had created, and the reader tends to feel sympathy and pity her naivety. The second episode takes place during the picnic at Box Hill when Emma is very rude towards Miss Bates. Emma had been bored throughout the picnic and she and Frank Churchill had been very rude towards Jane Fairfax as Frank was indulging in Emma’s fantasies and encouraging her bad behaviour. They were entertaining themselves at the expense of someone more vulnerable than them. It at this point when the reader feels impatient towards Emma.
Once again Emma fails to judge people appropriately and has not been impressed with Jane Fairfax or been very courteous towards Miss Bates before. When Emma responds to Miss Bates in the way she does, ‘Ah! Ma’am, but there may be difficulty. Pardon me – but you will be limited as to number – only three at once,’ the reader feels that Emma has not really learnt or matured very much if this is the way she treats an old lady. However the reader also feels sympathy, as it seems to be Frank’s encouragement that has caused Emma to act so openly and rudely. When Mr. Knightley rebukes her, Emma knows that she has done wrong. In volume one, when Emma learns that Mr. Elton actually liked her and not Harriet she feels remorse but also self-pity- that someone like Mr. Elton would actually like her. In this case she knows that she has done wrong and does not try to deny it. It also upsets the reader to know that Mr. Knightley is so disappointed with Emma as his praise is very valued. At this point Emma is feeling the pains of self-realisation, ‘she felt it at heart, how could she have been to brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates’ and ‘she had never been so depressed…
Emma felt the tears running down her cheeks almost all the way home, without being at any trouble to check them, extraordinary as they were. ‘ While Emma rides home in the carriage in tears after Mr Knightley’s rebuke at Box Hill, she henceforth decides to act more rationally, and acknowledges that, ‘with common sense, I am afraid I have had little to do. ‘ It marks the climax in her maturity, and now that she has become aware of her ‘insufferable vanity’ and ‘unpardonable arrogance,’ she can judge and act rightly.
The reader can appreciate her honesty about herself, her willingness to reform, and we take her self-inspection seriously. The reader also takes her attempts to repent with Miss Bates and Jane sincerely, for they are met with none of the self-pity and complacency of the previous episodes. Though we may have felt that Emma was lacking in tenderness and tact when she makes the cruel remark, and are put off by her snobbery, the reader also feels that she shows genuine repent for her sins.
The reader has the privileged view of observer to all that is going on; we are able to see the mistakes she makes, able to laugh at her mischievous plots, while she is unaware of her mistakes. As the novel progresses, however, the reader comes to take her seriously, because of the nature of the issues addressed in the novel, and while at times we may be ‘put off’ by her snobberies and claims to importance, Jane Austen has written in such way that the reader feels sympathy for her.
Emma is a character that is not so good as to be uninteresting, nor so cruel as to forgo sympathy. By presenting things from Emma’s point of view for the most part of the novel, the reader is able to gain an insight into her inner thoughts and unexpressed feelings. It is therefore easy for the reader to relate to Emma because although she seems to have it all, she is a real person who is growing up.