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Character Role Analysis

Jane Fairfax and Emma Woodhouse

Oooh, tricky. After all, how many times do we hear that Emma and Jane are so, so alike? Well, Emma thinks she’s perfect (or at least far above average). And Mr. Knightley seems to think that Jane is perfect. That’s a pretty close parallel, for starters. They’re both pretty – even Emma recognizes that Jane is elegant. Jane also plays a pretty mean song on the piano (whereas Emma can play "Chopsticks"). For all of Jane’s great characteristics, however, she’s a lot more reserved than Emma, which makes her harder to like. She’s also short of cash. For some reason, that knocks her out of the running for the main role in our novel. At least she gets Frank as a consolation prize.

Frank Churchill and Emma Woodhouse

Which brings us to our next foil – Frank himself. OK, OK, Frank’s a guy, which means that he’s on the other side of the marriage market – but they’ve got some striking similarities. Emma and Frank recognize each other as snarky soul-mates. They may not be in love – but that’s because they’re almost too similar. If Emma were a boy, she might just end up a lot like Frank. Then again, she might not. Emma’s mostly sympathetic to others, whereas Frank is far, far too involved in his own fun.

Isabella Knightley and Emma Woodhouse

Just for good measure, we’ll toss another foil into the mix. As Emma’s sister, Isabella constantly gets compared to our favorite heroine. For some reason, Isabella always seems to get the worse end of the deal: sure, she’s happily married, while Emma maintains her determination not to marry, but she’s just not quite as interesting as Emma can be. Of course, Emma marries a Knightley – and Isabella marries a Knightley. Emma’s obsessed with imagining potential marriages. Isabella’s obsessed with imagining illnesses for herself and her children. (Wow, that’s a lot of imagining for one family!) Heck, they even look a lot alike. But can you really imagine a novel starring Isabella? Yawn. Which brings us to an important point: it’s Emma’s mistakes, not Emma’s perfections, which make the novel so interesting.