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Themes

Morals and manners might seem to be contradictory concepts, but in Emma they are one and the same. Describing someone who acts like a gentleman (or gentlewoman) is another way of describing someone who acts according to accepted social norms of behavior. Compassion and kindness, true indications of gentility, aren’t always valued as good manners by everyone in the novel – but only crass people never realize how important such forms of sympathy really are. Satirizing bad manners becomes as much of a concern as validating good manners: characters (and readers) learn from the mistakes of those who just can’t seem to get it all right.

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. Are manners the same thing as morals?
  2. Emma’s sympathy for the poor shows us that she has a sense of right and wrong. Why does this get all mixed up in her other interactions?
  3. Is Mr. Knightley ever wrong?
  4. How does repentance change Emma? (Alternatively, does it change her?)

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Morals are synonymous with good manners in Emma.

Introspection, not action, is the key to morality in Austen’s novel.

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