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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Mr. Weston is the chief organizer of the Box Hill picnic. The women go to Box Hill in carriages, and the men ride on horses. Mrs. Weston remains with Mr. Woodhouse at Hartfield. After arriving, everyone separates into two groups: Miss Bates, Jane, and the Eltons are in one group; and Emma, Frank, Knightley, and Harriet form the other group. Mr. Weston tries unsuccessfully to harmonize the groups, which refuse to mingle.
The mood of the picnic is dull, and Frank has been particularly quiet. Emma tries to break the ice and refers to Frank's bad humor on the previous day, advising him to learn to control his temper. In a flirtatious way, Frank tells Emma that she should always be with him to help him control himself. Emma compliments him for his gallantry, but draws his attention to the fact that no one else is talking. Frank tells Emma that he will entertain the party and make everyone talk. He, therefore, tells the party that Emma has ordered everyone to speak their thoughts; but nobody responds.
Knightley questions whether Emma really desires to hear the thoughts of the group. Emma tells him that she would not be able to bear listening to what others think of her. The Eltons chime in and say that they have never approved of inquiring into the thoughts of others. Realizing that his effort to enliven the party has failed, Frank tells the party that Emma desires that each one should say something entertaining--either one thing very clever or two things moderately clever or three very dull things. Miss Bates immediately says, in a most good-humored manner, that she can say three dull things easily. Emma impulsively tells Miss Bates that she would only be allowed to speak three dull things at once. Miss Bates does not at first understand Emma's intention, but soon she realizes that she has been insulted. She conveys her hurt feelings to Knightley.
Mr. Weston next takes the initiative to enliven the picnic. He asks Emma's permission to ask the party to solve a riddle. He wants the party to state what the two first letters of EM-ma stand for. Although Frank, Harriet, and Emma approve of the game, the Eltons disapprove of flattering Emma with attention, and the others do not seem interested. When the Eltons leave for a walk, Frank comments on the fact that they had met in a public place and married after a three-week stormy romance. He predicts future unhappiness for the Eltons because of their haste. Jane openly disagrees with Frank. In her opinion, only irresolute characters can fail to face the reality of married life correctly. Frank cannot disagree with Jane; therefore, he returns to his light-hearted mood and asks Emma to choose a wife for him. He tells her that the woman should have lively spirits and hazel eyes. Emma immediately thinks of Harriet, even though her eyes are not hazel.
Jane asks Miss Bates to join her in walking with the Eltons. Even Knightley follows them. Soon Emma sees that the Eltons are leaving Box Hill in their carriage, along with Miss Bates and Jane. Emma decides to leave as well and waits for her carriage. Knightley comes to her side and tells Emma that it is his duty to tell her she has acted improperly. He criticizes her rudeness to Miss Bates, accusing her of ignoring her age and character. Emma blushes at his criticism and tries to laugh it off; but Knightley is not finished. He tells her that Miss Bates is all praise for her because of her generosity.
No doubt Miss Bates is a ridiculous character, but her impoverished condition should earn her some respect. Furthermore, Emma has insulted her in the presence of her niece and others, which is an improper act of humiliation. He acknowledges that Emma may be offended by his bluntness, but as her friend he had to tell her the truth.
When Emma gets into the carriage, Knightley feels that she has not appreciated his friendly criticism. In truth, Emma feels so humiliated and angry with herself that she cannot say a word to Knightley. When the carriage leaves, she feels terrible for having taken no leave of Knightley. She looks out to thank him for his friendly advice, which she knows is the truth, but it is too late. She greatly regrets that Knightley, whom she respects, now has an ill opinion of her. Emma cannot stop her tears from flowing thick and fast.
The picnic party at Box Hill brings into focus the difference between the social and moral values of the participants. Jane Austen's emphasis in the novel has been on social manners, for she believed that in the eighteenth century manners made a person. When Emma behaves like a presiding deity over the picnic with Frank pretending to be her devotee, Jane Austen shows that Emma has carried social snobbery too far. Worst of all, Emma insults the dull, but kind-hearted, Miss Bates. Knightley then brings out the moral values of the novel. He tells Emma that she must develop control over herself and must not hurt the feelings of others, particularly the socially inferior and elderly. Austen develops Knightley as the ideal specimen of the landed gentry.
The picnic is not a success, for everyone's mood is dull and bored. Both Jane and Frank have been particularly silent, suggesting some misunderstandings between the two, especially in light of what has transpired the previous evening. When Frank comments on Mr. Elton's hasty marriage, it makes Jane angry, and she openly challenges Frank. It is after this that Frank asks Emma to choose him a wife. Later, when the plot unfolds and his secret engagement to Jane becomes pubic knowledge, the reader realizes that Frank has been humiliating Jane in the presence of all, even her Aunt Miss Bates. He is also mocking Emma, who eagerly accepts his commission of finding him a wife. She is confused by Frank's insistence on hazel eyes, because Harriet's eyes are not hazel.
At the end of the chapter, Emma proves that she has changed. This point is underlined by Emma feeling mortified over her rude treatment of Miss Bates. She also sheds tears of repentance for having lost Knightley's good opinion of her. Spurred by Knightley's friendly advice, Emma has come to self-realization and now begins to really understand the folly of her ways. Finally free of self-delusion, Emma will not make the same mistakes in the future; she will no longer try to manage the lives of others.