by Jane Austen
Emma Theme of Gender
Gender roles seem to blur in everyday life: men gossip as much – if not more – than women, women run the social and political networks of the community as much as their male counterparts do, and everybody vies to be the perfect host/hostess. Women, however, have fewer options than men. They can get married, or they can live with their families. Without options, they become defined by a very different set of expectations and images then men do. Men still marry for looks or money (or a combination of the two); the women who choose to ignore or change the ways the marriage market works run into lots and lots of trouble.
Questions About Gender
- Austen’s narrator tells us that Emma starts arranging Harriet’s life because she’s bored. What other options does a woman have to entertain herself? Is Austen making a comment on gender roles?
- Mr. Weston seems to be as much of a gossip as Miss Bates. Does this make him effeminate? Is gossip a woman’s occupation or not?
- The narrator inserts many asides about gendered experiences (i.e., how men can’t understand x, etc). Many of these sections aren’t explained in the novel. What effect does this have?
- Is the role of a governess looked down upon? By whom? What are their reasons?
Chew on This
By the novel’s standards, perfect women are also boring women.
Emma is really a novel about women. Men are only present as potential husbands or fathers.