The Flawed Character of Emma Woodhouse
In Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen has created a wonderfully flawed heroine. Had Emma been perfect, her situation would have been of no interest to anyone; her flaws are what interest both reader and critic. Peter W. Graham is interested particularly with the first page of the novel where Emma is first introduced to the reader. He discusses how significant the beginning of the novel is to mapping out "Emma's personal development"(42). Walton A. Litz and Patricia Meyer Spacks are much more interested in what Emma's imagination shows about her development. Litz says that "[t]he basic movement of Emma is from delusion to self-recognition, from illusion to reality"(369). Spacks takes the opposite argument suggesting Emma doesn't grow but is simply alleviated of her boredom and her imagination disappears with it. I think Emma's growth throughout the novel is pronounced; she starts out loveable enough but with much to learn. She grows from self-delusion to self-awareness and learns to see truth and not just what she wants to see. She also grows in her social vision, although not as much as one may hope. All in all Emma makes significant developments and it is easy to imagine that with more time and Mr. Knightley's influence she will only continue learning and growing.
At the beginning of the novel we are made very aware of Emma's character, both her strengths and her flaws. She starts out, "seem[ing] to unite some of the best blessings in existence"(Austen, 1; Italics, Graham). Her flaws are "at present so unperceived that they d[o] not by any means rank as misfortunes with her" (1) but instead of seeming a fortunate thing Peter W. Graham states that "by naming what Emma has hitherto avoided, [Austen] reminds us of what she may (will) henceforth encounter" (Graham, 43). Emma's having "lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her"(Austen, 1) has left her untried. She has gained the love and respect of many, but whether or not she is truly in command of her "blessings" will only be seen with time and testing.
Emma, we see, is a devoted daughter; she continuously goes out of her way for her father keeping his mind off vexing matters, changing the subject and knowing the best ways and times to give him news so as not to upset him. In this aspect Emma never flags in her devotion to him and is caring from start to finish. In the first chapter we are given an example of how deftly Emma changes the topic of conversation from a distressing topic to one easier on Mr. Woodhouse's mind. The two of them were discussing Miss Taylor, now Mrs. Weston's marriage and how they shall be going to visit her at her new home often.
"My dear, how am I to get so far? Randells is such a distance. I could not walk half so far."
"No, papa, nobody thought of your walking. We must go in the carriage to be sure."
"The carriage! But James will not like to put the horses out for such a...