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Jane Austen’s “Emma” Novel vs. “Clueless” Film Essay

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Updated: Aug 15th, 2021


Both the novel Emma and the film Clueless vividly portray class divisions and difficulties, moral traits and class attitude. Every relationship in the work has its unique rhythm; even the smoothest relationships encounter snags, such as the treatment of brides. The book and the film reveals the novel’s humor almost always centered on the surprise creation and the sudden critique of unlikely personalities. Thesis The book and the film vividly portrays social differences and importance of class location for common citizens.

Comparison of the novel and the film

Highbury is portrayed as a society based on class relations and the traits of personality. Emma sets herself against this Highbury, as she does finally against Miss Bates at Box Hill. After every disagreement with Mr. Knightley she visits Miss Bates, as though humbly paying deference to Highbury itself. She does not like visiting Miss Bates for the very reason she should visit her: because it sanctions class fluidity. She does not wish to fall in with the “second and third rate of Highbury”; she wishes to have her own “set.”

Her greatest sin in the novel is cutting off Harriet’s warm attachment to the Martins; as Lionel Trilling has said, she is a reactionary, out to stop social mobility. And Jane Austen gives her snobbery deliberately vindictive overtones: “The regular and best families Emma could hardly suppose [the Coles] would presume to invite—neither Donwell, nor Hartfield, nor Randalls. Nothing should tempt her to go, if they did; and she regretted that her father’s known habits would be giving her refusal less meaning than she could wish.” If anything saves Emma after such deliberate unkindness, it is that she actually wants to, and does, go to the Coles’ dinner.

At bottom, the main character of Clueless, Cher, is the most social person in the novel: totally preoccupied with and loving all her relationships with people. This is the basis of the contrast between her and the society, who is a solitary, and who, in her marriage to a morally and intellectually inferior person, will continue to be a solitary. Jane Austen was interested in the stability of form, in what kept the great basic plans of social organization, one of which is marriage, so steadfast throughout whole epochs.

The main techniques used by film directors are bright characters and manners, unique settings and dialogues which underline the main themes and their meaning for the entire work. Jane Austin uses humor and vivid language means (metaphors and similes) to create a story conflict and unveil the theme. The book and the film unveil that most people marry, and almost everyone participates in some way in the larger institutions of our society.

Yet it has been the preoccupation to see struggle as the natural state of things and therefore to judge a novelist who explores the implications of our cooperative history as somehow blind or narrow or even trivial. Emma even threatens to take control over the work and write her own novel about Harriet: to give her a family history, a personality, beauty and stature, a love affair, a husband, and a social position.

The character of Emma and Cher are a center of the film and the book unveiled through their creative impulse and the individual person, for whom, after all, society is organized to begin with. The girls remind readers and viewers of what society is for; while they have not the right to remain aloof from it, she has the right to be dissatisfied with it. Both works are based on a recognition of the life of the individual as a functioning whole that must be coordinated internally before it can function externally.

Works Cited

  1. Austin, J. Emma. Emma. (edt) James Kinsley; Oxford University Press, 1998.
  2. Clueless. dir, by Amy Heckerling. Paramount, DVD. 1999.
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1. IvyPanda. "Jane Austen's "Emma" Novel vs. "Clueless" Film." August 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jane-austens-emma-novel-vs-clueless-film/.


IvyPanda. "Jane Austen's "Emma" Novel vs. "Clueless" Film." August 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jane-austens-emma-novel-vs-clueless-film/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Jane Austen's "Emma" Novel vs. "Clueless" Film." August 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jane-austens-emma-novel-vs-clueless-film/.


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