The function of setting in the presentation of Jane Austen’s main concerns in Emma

Published: 2021-07-01 07:48:12
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Category: Presentation, Jane Austen

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In Jane Austen's novel Emma, the function of setting is to demonstrate life as it would be in Highbury around the same time as Austen was writing the book (around 1815). The setting mostly refers to the period the is set in story as well as the place, which of course also bears much relevance. However, Jane Austen's main concern in the book was to convey social convention, an aspect of life which would have a major affect on the characters in the story as it did Jane herself, in context to the period it is set. Also the themes of marriage and wealth also tie in with social status in the book as it would be of importance in the early 18th century that it is set in.
The character that to help all these themes together as well as Emma herself is Harriet. Not only is the power of status shown by Emma's control over Harriet,( not even by force but Harriet's freewill, as she admires and aspires to Emma)but she also takes the theme of marriage with Emma's mischievous behaviour as she tries to match make Harriet to suitors of seemingly higher class.
Harriet also ties in with the education being a parlour boarder at Mrs Goddard's school. We are able to see a glimpse of what education is like as Jane Austen bring s in her description of Mrs Goddard the mistress of a school "not of seminary, or an establishment...but, a real, honest, old-fashioned boarding school...where girls may be sent out the way and scramble themselves in to a little education, without any danger of bringing back prodigies" We are shown the kind of education girls would have received at the time, a middle class education. Jane evokes a warm sense to the ides of school though the last line is a little shocking it brings in the real world, a world where contraception were not available and pre-marital sex was still a shameful act in the eyes of society. The "scramble" for education also shows the type of education the girls may receive. Not a full education but whatever the girls could grasp. In this way we can already see the kind of education that society of the period were growing up with. However for Emma, a member of higher class this was different, as it is shown, she was educated by Miss Taylor as would all member s of upper class be tutored at home.

Through out the novel there are marriage agreements and suitors made and discussions between characters of "equal marriage" this refers to marrying a person in the story of equal wealth and status. By the end of the novel it seems all characters seem to have found their equal in marriage, with Emma it is the gentlemanly Mr Knightly who if not just equal in status is equal by intellect as is evident through their many long conversations they hold, conversations on a level we never see Emma talk to Harriet with. Harriet also marries Mr Martin who after all turns out to be the right match for her. Though it would seem the message from the writer is that one should marry within ones own status, it is interesting to acknowledge the marriage at the beginning of the book. Miss Taylor, Emma's nanny therefore middle class, marries Mr Weston, of upper class, and there seems to be no evidence of criticism from the writer or characters of their marriage. In fact there are so many occasions in the book where the couple are described well together and perfectly married it seems they are almost a role model to other married couples at the time.
However though there is a happy ending, Jane Austen uses Emma, with her mischief and interfering nature to demonstrate the importance of social class and equal marriage within society at the time. As she takes Harriet and manipulates her feelings towards Mr Elton, the occurrences only reveal the nature of class to us. When Mr Elton realises Harriet has affection for him he is disgusted at the thought of it, even wise Mr Knightly comments on Mr Elton's views as Mr Elton said he would marry richly. This is revealed even further when he turns his attentions on Emma, the richest female in the story. His desire for Emma or rather Emma's money in turn disgusts her, and the feeling is evident and her "astonishment" shows how unequal she feels her self to him and how superior. An unequal marriage seems the most shocking of all things in the story, as it would in context.
However after being rejected Harriet only turns her attentions higher to Mr Knightly, the richest man in Highbury; however the reader does not feel this is arrogance on the part of Miss Smith, believing that he may requite her feelings but the fault of Emma who builds up Harriet's vanity through the book. The importance of marrying for money seems far more important than marrying for love and it is only then when the idea of marrying for love enters Emma' head. The only reason it seems Mr Knightly could marry Harriet would be for love, for Harriet has nothing of possession to offer. Though this idea is introduced, marrying for love, two central characters Emma and Harriet marry into equal relationships, and though they do love their partners, it is the equality that is expressed so importantly. It is simply that Jane Austen has idealised their relationships with their love for their partners and equality both being present to the characters.
The marriages contrast to the marriage of Mr Elton and Mrs Elton, as is commented by a character that in marry Mrs Elton, Mr Elton received twenty thousand pounds, an equal marriage but not one for affection to each other. In the novel Jane Austen only shows their judgemental characteristics and superficial attitudes, perhaps the example of a bad marriage, though equal in status?
Though the term setting in fiction also applies to period, an important factor in this book the setting, in referral to place is also important. Highbury is a rural environment almost cut off from the world. This small town helps us understand the narrow mindedness of some characters, and also the reason of so little action. The central action to the story is conversation, the lack of action means that to keep the reader entertained Jane Austen had create something else to keep the readers interest. Through such detailed language and description we receive such vivid characters and receive a lot information from their speech and others speech about them.
This also ties in with the period as presentation of a person would be very important and so what you say was also important, this is reproduced in Emma, as everything each character says reveals something about them. Also by setting the story in a remote rural area there can be more attention to new characters that enter the life of Emma. The conversation and excitement created by the awaited arrival of Frank Churchill creates a lot of excitement between characters in the book as it is not often visitors would come. Importance is added on this figure as he is a bachelor of Emma's age and so expectations of the reader and other characters are raised.
Therefore in the setting of Emma, Jane Austen's main concern with period was to show the social convention of the time, the way it affected marriage and also the importance of marriage in the context of the story. Jane uses Emma and Emma's treatement and views of other characters to show the three main themes of money, status, and marriage within the 18th century period it was set.

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