Societal Authority in Jane Austen's Emma Essay

2054 Words9 Pages
However much we insist it is not true, our choices, actions, and thoughts are rarely uninfluenced by the conditions we are born into. Our culture and society play a huge role in the person we become, shaping our opinions and worldviews from birth. This truth is illustrated no better than in Jane Austen’s Emma. In Emma, Austen uses narrative style, characterization, and the plot device of word games to illustrate the ever-present power of hierarchical control. Emma's plot seemingly hovers around the superficial theme of strategic matchmaking. But while this is an important aspect of Emma, it serves primarily as a catalyst to illustrate the much bigger idea of societal authority present in the novel.
Word games play a huge role in the
…show more content…
The games provide a limited example of perfection in society, and when Emma and Frank violate the rules of the anagram game, they are emulating the destructive effects of their social manipulations (Grey 182). Emma demonstrates in her collection of charades that she believes games should function in an impersonal way (Ferguson 9). She and Harriet have not only collected charades from their friends, but copied them from pre-existing anthologies, clearly indicating that the game itself is more important than its players. Society’s social game is played in much the same fashion, caring more for the rules than for those involved. Like all the forms of control in Emma, this one is subtle. Unspoken, yet understood. No one exemplifies this kind of subconscious control more than Mr. Woodhouse.
On the surface, Mr. Woodhouse is the feeble-minded, ridiculous father figure who serves only as a comedic device. However, Mr. Woodhouse plays a major role in the thoughts, feelings, and actions of Highbury. Everyone, especially Emma, is concerned with Mr. Woodhouse’s comfort and well-being. This is not, as it would seem, solely a result of his infantile constitution, but also an indicator of the importance of his role as societal patriarch. It is almost second nature for the people of Highbury to acquiesce to Mr. Woodhouse’s wishes because his pleasure is their main preoccupation

More about Societal Authority in Jane Austen's Emma Essay

Get Access