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Themes

What do the neighbors think? What do we think of the neighbors? What does it mean to be properly English? What will we do in the name of good manners? Circling around all of these questions, Emma builds up various definitions of respectability – and its evil cousin, pretension. Pretension may be the more interesting of the two, but it’s always deflated as the sort of social climbing it is. A good family reputation takes time (perhaps centuries) to build. Everybody knows who everybody else is – and where they fall in the social hierarchy.

Questions About Respect and Reputation

  1. Does Mr. Knightley respect Emma?
  2. Harriet’s an illegitimate child. By the end of the novel, does this matter?
  3. Why doesn’t Emma like Jane Fairfax?
  4. How do the gypsies figure into the social scheme of Highbury?

Chew on This

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

Shame becomes the most important barometer of change in Emma.

Minor characters (such as Mr. Woodhouse or Mr. Weston) become unrespectable only because we’re not allowed access to their moments of doubt or repentance.

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