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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
In Emma, as in all of her novels, Jane Austen deals with ordinary activities of life; but through them she shows the importance of human relations in society. People, as Jane Austen visualizes, are social animals who live by a code; to make life run smoothly, the social code must be based upon a set of moral values. The main theme of the novel is to show the violation of the social and moral codes and its disastrous results in a good-humored way. Human follies, stupidities and inconsistencies lead to the violation of the code, and only self-knowledge can prevent the human error. Jane Austen's main theme becomes "know yourself." Naturally, this theme is unfolded through the main character, who is always a female in an Austen novel. During the book, Emma changes from a willful, arrogant girl filled with self-delusion and romantic fancy, to a caring and considerate human being who repeatedly proves that she has matured and is worthy of the love of Knightley. Through self-analysis, she has learned that the social code must be based on human moral qualities.
Marriage was the most important problem for women of the English society of the later eighteenth century. Females were confined to home life with no opportunity for a career. Even education for women had to be provided by governesses within the home. Women who had no chance of getting married and winning economic security had to depend on charity or work as a governess, such as Jane Fairfax; therefore, most young ladies spent all of their time and effort looking for a suitable husband, just as Harriet. Only women like Emma Woodhouse, who was a part of the wealthy, landed gentry with a sizable fortune of her own, would chose to remain unmarried.
The theme of the importance of marriage runs throughout the novel. Emma is preoccupied with the thoughts of marriage, though she has resolved not to marry herself. She sees herself as a matchmaker and wants to plan proper marriages that take into consideration the social realities of material well being and social situation in the hierarchical society of Highbury. The problem is that Emma is not a good judge of others, because of her romantic fantasies. She tries to match Harriet with Elton, which proves a total disaster. She tries to bring Frank and Harriet together, which is also an impossible situation. Emma's meddling and machinations do more harm than good. In spite of her failure at matchmaking, the novel ends with marriages, which emphasizes the importance of this theme.