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by Jane Austen

Emma Theme of Transformation

Changing her friends, changing her loves, and changing her boring life, Emma seems to be committed to transformation. Self-transformation, however, is harder to come by. Learning how to move from impractical –and often hurtful – imagining of other people’s situations to a reflective "consideration" of her own faults becomes the true transformation Emma undergoes. When marriage is defined as change, any novel about marriage is going to be fraught with transformations – just not the ones that you might immediately expect. Social transformation may be impossible; self-transformation, however, becomes a necessary and natural form of growing up.

Questions About Transformation

  1. Why does Emma need Mr. Knightley to point out her errors? Would she have figured out her mistakes on her own?
  2. Does Mr. Knightley change over the course of the novel? How? Where specifically do you see this change?
  3. Does Emma’s attitude towards Harriet change by the end of the novel? How so?
  4. Can we actually imagine Jane as a governess? Does the novel present this as a realistic possibility?

Chew on This

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

Society only recognizes one real transformative experience for women: marriage.

Self-knowledge isn’t as important as social knowledge in Emma.

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