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Jane Austen's novel Emma & Theme of Nature of Power

Jane Austen's novel Emma has as one of its major subjects the nature of power in human relationships. Specifically, Austen means to compare, respectively, the healthful and unhealthful relationships between Emma and Harriet on one hand, and Emma and Knightley on the other. The Emma-Harriet relationship is the epitome of the unhealthy relationship in which the "teacher" (Emma) abuses and manipulates and exploits the "student." The power is all in the hands of Emma, who has not what's best for Harriet in mind, but instead what is most desirable for herself. The relationship between Knightley and Emma, on the other hand, is an entirely different sort of student-teacher relationship based on experience and power. Whereas Emma "teaches" Harriet with only her own desires and interests in mind, Knightley is generally selfless in the attention he pays Emma. The contrast in these two relationships is emphasized by the relative self-awareness of Emma and Knightley. With reference to the first point of comparison, Emma is completely unaware that her relationship with Harriet is self-serving, whereas Knightley, though he has only Emma's interest at heart, nevertheless is constantly on guard for selfish motivations.

With respect to that self-awareness (or lack of it), much of the appeal of the character of Emma depends on her ignorance of herself and of her own unlikable qualities. Her manipulation of Harriet is a prime example of that self-ignorance. In fact, to one degree or another, every relationship Emma has is meant to either increase or decrease her self-awareness. In any case, had Emma been from the beginning of the novel aware of herself, her self-centeredness, her snobbishness, her incessant need to interfere in the lives of others, usually for the worse and always for selfish reasons, she would have been thoroughly unlikable, and would have had little appeal at all for the reader. As it is, the reader cannot help but expect that the ...

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Jane Austen's novel Emma & Theme of Nature of Power. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:29, May 26, 2020, from