Emma And Social Norms In Jane Austen's Emma

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When Emma first dines with her sister and brother-in-law at Hartfield, Jane Austen’s eponymous character quickly proves herself independent, forceful, and unafraid to speak her mind – at least as a woman. In short, Emma has a great deal of outspokenness, which I define here as a tendency to express one’s thoughts with a directness contrary to societal norms. Compared to her female peers, Emma fits this definition quite well. Unlike her sister Isabella, Emma employs a loud voice more than she does subtle body cues, rarely hesitates to interject when someone else speaks, and sparingly uses honorifics such as “sir.” Yet I posit, perhaps less conventionally, that compared to her fellow male compatriots, Emma seems less outspoken. Indeed, when applied to John Knightley, the comparisons used to compare Emma with Isabella yields very different conclusions of Emma’s…show more content…
“I hope you will think better,” “I hope it is only from being a little fatigued,” “I wished… that you had seen Mr. Wingfield” (67) – these are all quotes from Isabella, quotes that all very noticeably qualify Isabella’s thoughts as trivial desires unimportant in the grand scheme of life. Contrast these wistful quotes with an adjacent quote of Emma’s: “I did not thoroughly understand what you were telling your brother [about Mr. Graham’s new estate.] But will it answer? Will not the old prejudice be too strong?” In this particular quote (and throughout the novel), Emma swaps out Isabella’s fanciful language in favor of a far more piercing and exacting interrogative. Emma does not merely express a wish or a hope to learn more about Mr. Graham; rather, she converts her thirst for news into a demanding question her dinner mates must answer. Indeed, Emma’s use of strongly worded statements and questions give Austen’s protagonist a directness and outspokenness simply not evident in

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