Emma as a character is at the same time very strong, but also she comes across as a bit of a know-it-all, and she acts as though she is superior to every other character in the novel. Emma allows status to interpret her feelings of people, and it affects how she treats them. It is quite obvious that Emma allows herself to mistreat people for her own purposes, whether it is for mere satisfaction, to prove a point, or perhaps it is just a subconscious task for her that is beyond her control until it is too late to be fixable.
Emma is a character who really sees herself as being better than not only everyone else, but believes she is better than she really is. It could be argued that she sees herself as better than Mr. Elton due to the fact that she rejects him, although claims that it is for Harriet’s sake. Mr. Elton throws all of the signs of having feelings for Emma, but she is too oblivious to notice them because he is below her, but above Harriet so he is sufficient for her purposes. She has no concern as to how he feels about her, but only that Harriet has feelings for him. This can be seen as Mr. Elton confronts Emma with his feelings, and she is utterly confused, and almost offended. “I have seen you only as the admirer of my friend. In no other light could you have been more to me than a common acquaintance.” (Page 119) This quote expresses the surprise that Emma feels as Mr. Elton comes onto her in an attempt to win her over. Clearly she has mistreated him as a person, and as a potential lover since being the third son is not “good enough” for someone of her ranking and importance.
Another person to feel the wrath of Emma’s mistreating is Miss Bates while at Box Hill; Emma makes a complete fool out of poor Miss Bates, for being poor. Emma is put in her place only as Mr. Knightly calls her out and scolds her until she realizes what she has done. For the first time, Emma actually feels slightly guilty for her actions, and takes responsibility for them for the first time. The incident on its own was quite interesting since it is almost as if Miss Bates is honored by being picked on by someone of Emma’s status, as if it makes her more noticeable, or popular. It does not even occur to Emma that she may hurt someone’s feelings when she does not internalize what she is going to say before forcing her thought and opinions on other people; not until Mr. Knightley brings it to her attention, and even then she brushes it off her shoulder. “Emma recollected, blushed, was sorry, but tried to laugh it off.” (Page 299) The correspondences between Mr. Knightley and Emma continue on until the point is made that Emma was very wrong, and out of line. Eventually it dawns on Emma that she should she does mistreat people and this is the turning point of her attitude.
Overall it is quite easy to see how Emma mistreats other characters due to their social standing, and status in their community. If she were able to look past her being better than everyone...