Austen's Emma and Social Manipulation Essay

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10, 84). This validation is what drives Emma to continue manipulating.

Emma recognizes her own delusion when it becomes clear that Mr. Elton in fact loves Emma. This is clear in her imagination, where she continues to think of him as Harriet's lover and not hers. His response is: "I never thought of Miss Smith in the whole course of my existence" (ch. 15, 121). This shows the level to which Emma has deluded herself. She claims never to have encouraged him and rebuffs him. She feels it as "Such an overthrow of everything she had been wishing for" (ch. 16, 123). She is angry that she was self-deceived. In shame, Emma swears off setting people up, thinking that "it was wrong . . . It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious -- a trick of what ought to be simple" (ch. 16, 126). This revelation and remorse shows her coming to terms with manipulating behavior. It shows how much she wants to shape things to her own desires and will. As a kind of penance later on for her guilt, she is forced to sooth and attend to Harriet.

Like Emma, Mrs. Elton is a social manipulator. She is described as vain, ill-bred, and self-absorbed, an insufferable person "who only wanted to be talking herself" (ch. 32, 249). There is a mutual hostility between her and Emma. Yet they are similar in wanting to manipulate situations and impose their will on other women. In Mrs. Elton's case, she chooses Jane Fairfax to try to manipulate under the guise of helping her find a mate. She determines to intervene in her life and get her noticed. Mrs. Elton says, "I shall certainly have her very often at my house, shall introduce her wherever I can, shall have musical parties to draw out her talents, and shall be constantly on the watch for an eligible situation" (ch. 33, 259). When Jane accepts her invitations, Mr. Knightley is able to say that "Miss Fairfax awes Mrs. Elton by her superiority both of mind and manner . . . no degree of vanity can prevent her acknowledging her own comparative littleness in action, if not in consciousness" (ch. 33, 262). There is a similar structure here between Mrs. Elton and Jane as between Emma and Harriet.

The difference is that Jane is less submissive than Harriet is to Emma. Mrs. Elton tries to arrange it so that she receives Jane's letters from the post office, but Jane is strong enough to refuse this. When Jane mentions getting a job, Mrs. Elton is taken aback, calling it the slave-trade. She says that "it will not satisfy your friends to have you taking up with anything that may offer, any inferior commonplace situation, in a family not moving in a certain circle, or able to command the elegancies of life" (ch.35, 276). Again, Jane challenges her: "I am very serious in not wishing anything to be attempted at present for me," she says, which Mrs. Elton refuses to acknowledge (ch. 35, 276). In other words, Mrs. Elton has determined to "help" her on her way into marriage and the high life, even though Jane is resistant. This is clear later when Mrs. Elton is triumphant at news of an appointment she has arranged for Jane: "Mrs. Elton was wild to have the offer closed with immediately" (ch. 42, 329). In strength, Jane proposes a removal. But she will not take no for an answer. Jane caves in and accepts it, even though she is secretly engaged to Frank Churchill. Mrs. Elton uses her wealth, power, and connections to arrange things. But in the end, Jane marries Frank and resists being controlled.

In sum, Austen's Emma demonstrates social manipulation through the characters of Emma and Mrs. Elton. Both use their influence to scheme for younger woman who fall under their spell. Both are ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to make matches. In Emma's case, the deceptive nature of scheming is revealed and renounced. Emma reforms, while Mrs. Elton remains unreformed to the end. All of this is a valuable indication of the ways that upper class women had to assert a form of…[continue]

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