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Jane Austen's Use of Juxtapositions in Her Novel 'Emma'

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‘Emma’ is a novel that was written by Jane Austen and was published in 1815. Emma Woodhouse, the main character, is a 21-year-old woman who lives with her father Mr. Woodhouse, in the village of High Bury. She comes from a privileged background and lives comfortably in a happy disposition. She constantly acts as a matchmaker for everyone, and ultimately herself. In the book, juxtaposition can be seen between Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill and between Emma, Jane Fairfax, and Harriet. The use of juxtaposition helps to reemphasize Austen’s ironic statements, to construct and illuminate characters and compare two or more characters. By using juxtaposition, Austen portrays Emma’s struggle as she advances in her path of self-knowledge.

Juxtaposition is observed through Emma’s complex attitude towards Jane. Although both women share some characteristics, such as classism, being manipulative, and stubbornness, when they are together, their differences and Emma’s jealousy and sense of entitlement are more noticeable. Emma’s opinion about jane becomes clear that she doesn’t like her because of her reserved attitude. “There was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapt up in a cloak of politeness, she seemed to determine to hazard nothing” (Austen 136). Even when Emma made multiple promises to herself to try and accept Jane, she found it impossible. Jane refuses to engage in conversation beyond what is considered polite, and Emma, who enjoys engaging in playful conversations, does not accept her quietness. Austen shows without an open personality, making connections is more troublesome and is prone to misinterpretation, but having an open personality makes overcoming differences simpler. In addition to their characters, differences between them build their relationship and highlight the importance of Emma’s self-knowledge. The author’s use of juxtaposition reveals that Emma is self-centered and inconsiderate.

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Furthermore, the juxtaposition between Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill is also seen in Emma. The narrator describes Emma’s actions saying, “She compared the two—compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter’s being known to her” (Austen, 339). This doesn’t only reveal the juxtaposition between both men, but also the reluctance of the character to be trusted, even by herself. When the author introduces Mr. Knightly into the book, he is characterized as a very practical man, meanwhile, she describes Frank as a good-looking man. Both Mr. Knightly and Frank, have similarities such as their polite manners towards the people they care for, but what makes them different is their differences in being reserved. Frank is a man who cares about his physical appearance while speaking and taking actions and has no interest in the other classes in society. While Mr. Knightly, on the other hand, is an open-minded man who expresses correct opinions with rational thinking which impresses Emma. It is seen that the voice of the book favors Mr. Knightly over Frank, even if they both have good qualities. The constant contrast between both characters forces Emma to repeatedly choose sides. Since those two men are juxtaposed throughout Emma’s life and the book, it enables Emma to determine who she prefers, whereas if they were in isolation, meaning that if Frank never visited High bury, she wouldn’t be able to make that choice. In the end, when Emma sees their differences, she chooses Mr. Knightly to fall in love with, as he always manages to help her advance in her path of self-knowledge. Mr. Knightly is always warning her of things that could harm her or the harm that she could cause others.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition between Emma and Harriet can also be seen. Their relationship is interesting as they are both very different by not sharing similar characteristics. They both realize the power imbalance, as Emma has full control over their friendship due to having a higher status and Harriet lacking such assertiveness. In the book, Emma often patronizes Harriet, masking her superiority complex with her feeling of doing Harriet a huge favor by befriending her. “Yes. But what shall I say? Dear Miss Woodhouse do advise me” (Austen 45). “Oh no, no! The letter had much better be all your own. You will express yourself very properly, I am sure” (Austen 45). Harriet asking Emma for advice on how she should respond to Mr. Elton’s letter when she knows exactly how to respond makes her a submissive character. This is because when Harriet always depends on Emma; it makes Emma a dominant character which then allows her to have full power and control over Harriet and others. This makes Emma think that her words and actions are always correct, and which will then blind her from seeing the negative things. This dominant character that Harriet brings out of Emma, makes Emma realize it later throughout the book, as other characters in the book point it out such as Mr. Knightly. Emma looking back at the way she was treating Harriet by controlling her actions and feelings, makes Emma feel regret. She realizes how blinded she was by thinking she had a better understanding of Harriet’s feelings and knowledge about love. This realization improves her self-knowledge by allowing her to see that she ignored love in herself and instead focused on finding love for others.

In conclusion, the use of juxtapositions allows to construct and illuminate characters, such as Emma illuminating Frank, by choosing Mr. Knightly over him and allows to compare or contrast two or more characters such as Emma and Harriet. The use of juxtaposition also helps Emma advance her self-knowledge. The juxtaposition between Emma and Jane builds their relationship and highlights the importance of Emma’s self-knowledge by revealing that Emma is self-centered and inconsiderate. The contrast between Mr. Knightly and Frank enables Emma to determine who she prefers to fall in love with. Lastly, the contrast between Emma and Harriet improves Emma’s self-knowledge by allowing her to see that she ignored love in herself and instead focused on finding love for others. Looking back at the book, Austen through ‘Emma’, set the standards for creative writing with her thrilling juxtaposition emphasizing several flaws in society while furthering the plot. As time goes by, ‘Emma’ gathers more respect and appreciation due to such a feature of the book that makes it a classic.

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Jane Austen’s Use of Juxtapositions in Her Novel ‘Emma’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Jane Austen’s Use of Juxtapositions in Her Novel ‘Emma’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Jane Austen’s Use of Juxtapositions in Her Novel ‘Emma’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
Jane Austen’s Use of Juxtapositions in Her Novel ‘Emma’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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