In Jane Austen's "Emma", "Mr. Woodhouse Is Merely A Figure Of Provoking Gentle Fun." Discuss The Importance Of His Character In Relation To The Plot And Structure Of The Novel.

1350 words - 5 pages

The Woodhouses have a good deal of sway over the lives and affairs of the other members of their community. In the first chapter of the novel, the reader learn that Mr. Woodhouse finds homes for maids in other households, while Emma does essentially the same for her acquaintances, in attempting to pair them off with husbands and wives. The narrator presents this overzealous concern for other people's well being as an entirely harmless characteristic, in Mr. Woodhouse at least. While his intrusions into the personal lives of even non-family relations and frequent effusions of worry are bothersome to readers and characters alike, Mr. Woodhouse never actually does anyone the slightest bit of real or lasting harm. Even Mr. John Knightley cannot stay annoyed at him for very long. Therefore, Austen provides the character of Mr. Woodhouse, not only as light-hearted comedy, but also to show a contrast between him and Emma.Emma, on the other hand, is capable of doing real personal damage, and her willful intrusions into the lives of her acquaintance are presented as arrogant presumption -- her character's major flaw:"The real evils of Emma's situation [are] the power of having rather too much of her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself."The key difference between her acts of presumption and those of her father is that she has a stronger will and mind than he. Her actions are therefore not only more harmful to others but also more conscious and deliberate. Though she may, like her father, be acting out of good intentions, she is fully aware of the ways in which she manipulates. Emma not only sees that she is molding Harriet's weaker mind, she understands how best to do it. If awareness makes her more responsible for her actions than the fumbling Mr. Woodhouse, it also increases the distance she has to fall when she acts irresponsibly.With Emma's station is the highest in her social circle, her machinations go largely unchecked, but for the rebukes of Mr. Knightley. The standard of goodness in the book and its moral compass, Mr. Knightley's criticism is the narrator's way of alerting us to Emma's faults. After all, social protocol forbids anyone else from attempting such criticism. The fact that Knightley practices great forbearance with Mr. Woodhouse but takes exception to most of Emma's doings highlights the differences in each character's culpability. In short, Mr. Woodhouse is excused because he cannot help his effrontery, while Emma is not because she can. The distinction is related to each character's flexibility: Mr. Woodhouse is the most stagnant character of the book, while Emma is the one most capable of growth. Given Mr. Woodhouse's profound fear of change, it seems pointless to try to mend his flaws at this late age. As a contrast, Emma however, possesses the mental and spiritual instruments, which, applied correctly, and could bring her to a near-perfect existence, elevating her actions and awareness to a par with...

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