TASK: It has been said about Jane Austen that she is basically trying to show her readers how they should live their lives. Do you agree with this statement?
To a certain extent, I think it could be said that Jane Austen is trying to show her readers how to live. I think it could be said that Austen tries to show her readers how to live mainly through her characters and how she humanises them. This is the particular case with Emma Woodhouse. Emma is known as “handsome, clever and rich” – everything you could ever want in a woman of the time, which makes her seemingly perfect at first glance. However, Emma amuses herself by playing matchmaker to the people of Highbury and her self-proclaimed “skill” in making successful matches has given her a sense of arrogance, which makes her think that she knows best in any given situation. This does not endear her to some people and they do everything they can to dissuade her from her matchmaking hobby (her father and Mr. Knightley are among those who try to stop Emma). This makes Emma an imperfect character, reminding the reader that she is human and is flawed, like everyone else in the world.
This, along with Emma’s declaration that she will never marry, is her tragic flaw – her blindness to her actions and the consequences it can lead to. While trying to make a match for her new protégée, Harriet, Emma fails to see that Harriet’s attentions lie elsewhere and she also fails to realise Mr. Knightley’s true feelings for her. The events of Box Hill rattle Emma, ground her and lead her to realise Newton’s third law of gravity: that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. By introducing Emma as an imperfect, flawed protagonist, Austen may have a didactic purpose in trying to show her readers how to live, by writing that you can be beautiful, smart and rich, like Emma, but that’s not all to life: selflessness and consideration for others is equally, if not more, important and that is what leads to true happiness.
Contrariwise, Austen could simply be writing a novel for simply enjoyable purposes and people have interpreted Emma, or any of Austen’s novels, in a way that leads them to believe that Austen has an ulterior motive: a didactic purpose in showing people how to live their lives!