Irony And Misconceptions In Jane Austen's Emma

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In Jane Austen’s Emma, the social world dominates. Each character has their own biased preconceptions which determine how they assess each other. Meanwhile, the reader is encouraged to judge the characters for their missteps and misconceptions. Austen creates irony in the novel by first setting up the characters for criticism of their dogmatic perspectives, and then setting up the reader to realize her own biased analysis of the characters. Austen accomplishes this effect through both the plot and the narrator’s direct discourse. Ultimately, the novel shifts from a criticism of Highbury’s elite residents to a criticism of the reader herself. Austen introduces her character’s biases in the first volume of the novel. Emma exemplifies this flaw: …show more content…
When Frank Churchill comes to town, the narrator exclusively shows scenes that imply his affection for Emma. When Emma first meets Frank, “she felt immediately that she should like him” (179) and he reciprocated with “a readiness to talk, which convinced her that he came intending to be acquainted with her” (179). In conversation, Frank intentionally aligns his opinions with Emma’s, such as when she tells him, “you are quite unreasonable,” (232) and he replies, “I agree with you exactly” (232). In this way, his behavior is similar to Mr. Elton’s in the first volume. Furthermore, after Frank asks Emma to dance at party scene in chapter 26, he remarks how lucky it was that the event ended when it did, so that he didn’t have to dance with Jane, whose “languid dancing would not have agreed with me, after your’s” (214). Frank’s frequent contrast between Jane and Emma is reminiscent of Mr. Elton’s preference for Emma over Harriet, making Frank appear even more enamored with Emma. In the Box Hill scene in chapter 43, Frank even asks Emma to find him a wife who is exactly like herself, implying his wish to marry her. In these scenes, Austen intentionally keeps the narrator close to Emma’s perspective, making the reader as likely as Emma to misinterpret Frank’s behavior. Therefore, when Frank finally reveals that he is engaged to Jane, Emma is “horror-struck” (371) and the reader’s ignorance is just as poignant. Once again, both the plot and the narrator work to emphasize the reader’s mistaken judgment, both of Frank and of her superiority to

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