Essay-style Questions: Emma
1.What follows is a full introduction and a possible essay plan, in response to the question:
'Education is the central subject in Emma'. Discuss
Echoes the question and addresses it directly
Highlights the simple structure which will give the essay shape
|Education is a key theme which links many of the characters
in Emma. The novel centres upon the development of Emma Woodhouse
as she learns from her experiences. Harriet Smith, Emma's schoolgirl
friend, is also engaged in the learning process. Jane Fairfax, meanwhile,
is preparing to work as a governess - which allows Jane Austen to comment
briefly on women's education in general. In my answer, I shall address
each of these characters in turn.
|Discusses Emma's formal and informal education
in the novel
|At the start of the novel Emma has just lost her governess and friend,
Jane Taylor, who has married Mr Weston. We learn from Mr Knightley that
Mrs Weston was never very strict in teaching Emma - who is therefore
apt to do what she likes. Emma begins books and drawings but doesn't
finish them, and makes lists of improving reading but doesn't put these
into practice. It is clear that Emma's education is incomplete.
The structure of the novel highlights events where Emma judgement is
Throughout, it is Mr Knightley, who is the only person willing to criticise,
|Discusses Harriet Smith and
|Harriet Smith also illustrates the importance of education
in Emma. Like Emma and Jane, she lacks parental guidance. Her character
is soft and easily moulded, and she looks up to Emma for advice. As Mr Knightley
spots, this is a dangerous education, because Emma encourages Harriet to
learn the hobbies of a gentlewoman (riddles, sketching, reading) rather
than the domestic skills she needs. Emma is a bad teacher because she cares
more for Harriet's admiration than Harriet's realistic goals.
Miss Goddard's boarding-school, where Harriet is a pupil, gives Austen
a chance to comment on the difficulties for girls in `scrambling themselves
into a little education'. Many girls' schools simply provide a
way for parents to offload responsibility for their daughters.
|Discusses Jane Fairfax and
|Jane Fairfax is preparing unhappily to become a governess.
This is a poorly paid job, with a relatively low status, and Jane bitterly
compares it to the slave trade, which sells 'human flesh'. This
provides another perspective on the problems of the early 19th century educational
system. Jane is well-educated, but, like the other young people, has to
grow and change before the novel's end. She confesses to Emma that
she was wrong to agree to a secret engagement with Frank Churchill -
this secrecy forced her to be closed and reserved towards the friends who
could have helped her, and has even made her ill.
Goes back to the initial question and summarises the arguments you have
Ideally, the conclusion should also add a little extra flourish -
|Education is at the heart of Emma. It is an idea that
is explored from various angles. The educational system, particularly for
women, is criticised. Emma's personal development through learning
from experience provides the novel's structure. Indeed, all of the
characters learn things about others during the course of the novel that
they did not previously know. But most importantly the central figures learn
to know themselves better - self-criticism is the key to sound judgement.