Danielle Baker

English 295/McAllister


Interesting Title

In Emily Dickinson's novel Emma, Harriet Smith becomes the target of the protagonist's matchmaking schemes and plays an important role as her antithesis. Dickinson establishes the relationship between the two girls early on and remarks on its growth heavily through use of dialogue, detail and figurative language. On pages 31-32, Emma meets Mr. Martin, an unrefined and common gentleman, and decides he will not be a part of Harriet's life despite Harriet's obvious affection for him. Harriet's naivety and blind trust allows Emma to control her choice in men and her opinion of Mr. Martin with little reasoning at all. The encounter starkly represents the controlling nature Emma assumes over Harriet in the novel and Emma's attitude of arrogance and snobbery, and exemplifies her selfish desire to plan another "successful" match.

Mr. Elton is on Emma's "to-do list" before Harriet is even introduced. Emma's father begs her to give up matchmaking, but Emma, having finished bragging about her success with the Weston marriage, then goes on to insist that Mr. Elton will be her last conquest and reasons that finding him a wife would be the "only way (she has) of doing him a service", (Page 13). Only until page 35, when she disapproves of Mr. Martin, does Emma admit the match "had entered her brain during the very first evening of Harriet's coming to Hartfield.", in evidence of her success and her confidence that she can sway Harriet away from Mr. Martin upon meeting him. She then expresses that her only fears are that others will have guessed the match and see it as obvious, but desires in being the one to orchestrate the union.

This passage offers great insight into Emma's views on her relationship with Harriet and the role she will play in her marital life. It begins with Emma asking "Did not I tell you what he said of you the other day?". The seemingly innocent and well-meaning question is juxtaposed by Dickinson with Emma's thought of: after repeating the praise she had drawn from Mr. Elton, she "now did full justice to" it (Page 34-35). The odd description suggests that Emma looks at things with a game player's eye. She takes things like compliments and conversation and uses them as pieces in her game. Her intention was not to bring her friend the pleasure of a compliment, but instead persuade Harriet Mr. Elton was the better choice and, in consequence, benefit herself.

On page 31, "Emma watched (Harriet) through the fluctuations of this speech, and saw no alarming symptoms of love… she trusted… there would be no serious difficulty on Harriet's side to oppose any friendly arrangement of her own." Emma is good at reading people's emotions but uses that ability to manipulate them. She continues to describe her intentions as "friendly" or the "best" to reason she is doing what's right for everyone and so, should not be reprimanded or stopped. Returning to the passage on page 35, "(Emma) had already satisfied herself that (Mr. Elton) thought Harriet a beautiful girl", the use of syntax is vibrantly important in expressing Emma's underlying selfishness. On the surface, she paints over the idea that she is helping two people she cares about, but really is playing with them like dolls. Dickinson subtly exemplifies this in the last line of the chapter in which Emma labels Harriet as a "girl who could be gratified by a Robert Martin… (who) might very well be conquered by Mr. Elton's admiration." If there were a genuine interest in Harriet's desires, Emma would not be so quick to put her in a box and match her with the man she already vowed to see married.

Emma's relationship with Harriet and her encouraging Harriet to marry Mr. Elton develops several major themes and purposes for the novel's progression and character development. The most evident theme from this passage is social responsibility versus egotism. As a whole, Emma's character focuses on her effort to impress others and, as established on page 1, Emma does what Emma wants without direction or judgment from others. She is so used to doing what she wants and receiving praise for it that her motivation in the match is not wholly misunderstood. Harriet is a naïve and innocent girl who looks to Emma for guidance and structure. The two characters are mistaken in both respects as Mr. Knightley is so quick to discover on page 38 expressing immediately his belief that "I think they will neither of them do the other any good".

Mr. Knightley's wisdom not only foreshadows the disastrous results of the relationship and its motives, but also serves as one of the many tools Dickinson utilizes to construct and explain the girl's complex effect one another. Everything is more than meets the eye in this novel, and Dickinson ensures that with the small suggestiveness in her dialogue and the detail she pays in aligning events and conversations. She makes sure we do not miss Emma's unbecoming character and Harriet's borderline stupidity, therefore creating strong antithesis and plot dynamic. The novel is written in a way that the reader can surmise character intention, therefore, expressing central themes and important plot points more sufficiently as a whole.