Marriage in Jane Austen’s Emma
In her novel, Emma, Jane Austen uses the theme of marriage in a very interesting way. The protagonist of the same name seems to disregard marriage as an option in her own life, yet plays matchmaker in the lives of those around her. Through Emma’s matchmaking schemes and her own indifference to marriage as a woman of means, Austen’s novel suggests a criticism of a society that offers few options to women whom are not daughters of a gentleman. Emma’s character is devoid of romance throughout most of the novel, which is uncharacteristic of Austen’s work. Although there does not appear to be romance in this novel, there are still romantic undertones that should be observed by readers. These moments of Emma’s naiveté and her lack of romantic tendencies are what propels Austen’s story and makes sense of Emma’s character.
At the beginning of the novel, Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, declares that marriage is the origin of change (Austen, 9). For Austen’s female characters, marriage is an important part of their life because marrying well is the only opportunity to enhance their social status. As readers learn early on, Emma is a creature of habit and does not see the need to change her own life, but she still imagines matches among others whose ranks need improving. Austen’s use of a wealthy heroine is a way to expose the economic issues surrounding love and marriage of that period. Emma’s indifference to marriage, but love of matchmaking provides a lens into the social and romantic lives of others. Harriet is a perfect example of one of the women in the novel who needs to marry for financial stability. Harriet has feelings for Mr. Robert Martin, but Emma puts a stop to this spark because she does not see Mr. Martin as a worthy opponent for her friend Harriet. Emma’s naiveté propels Austen’s comments on marriage. Emma doesn’t see the social differences between herself and Harriet, therefore she looks down on Mr. Martin as an unsuitable partner. Jane Fairfax is another example. Jane resolves to become a governess as a way to survive before Frank Churchill marries her. While the younger women in the novel search for love and stability, Miss Bates’ character serves as a constant reminder of what is to come if one is unsuccessful in procuring a suitable husband and rising socially. The mindsets of the female characters in the novel depict the need for marriage in Austen’s time. Each one of these characters plays an important role to illustrate this broken society that leaves women with such little prospects of livelihood if they do not find a man to marry.
Some may argue that the feelings of the novel’s characters are subdued, but this is because the plot closely follows a young woman who is not yet mature enough to realize her own feelings of love toward a man with whom she interacts. Throughout the course of the story, Emma has differing feelings about marriage and does not really know how she would feel if she were to...