The author, Jane Austen adheres to the common convention of a moral or a lesson in her novel, Emma. There are several cases that Austen displays the moral lesson which are the negative effects of believing in our imagination and interest rather than looking at the reality or the facts of the situation. These cases include: Emma misinterpreting Mr.Elton’s actions, Mr. Knightley unable to consider Frank Churchill in an objective way, and Frank Churchill flirting with Emma. These characters base their opinions on what other people in the town say or their own idea which prevents them from looking at the situation with an objective point of view.
One of the major events that show this moral or lesson can be seen when Emma misinterprets Mr.Elton’s actions in the carriage even though Austen makes it clear that Mr.Elton is not in love with Harriet. After Emma thinks that Mr.Martin is an unacceptable match for Harriet due to him being socially beneath Harriet, Emma encourages a match between Harriet and Mr.Elton. Emma starts to think that Mr.Elton is a “remarkably handsome man, with the most agreeable manners” and becomes convinced that he is already in love with Harriet before even painting her face since Elton “talked of Harriet, and praised her warmly”(Chapter 6, 1st paragraph). However, when Emma paints Harriet, Mr. Elton’s admiration for Emma is clearly seen to us as the readers but not to Emma. For example, Elton says, “You have given Miss Smith all that she required,; you have made her graceful and easy. She was a beautiful creature when she came to you, but, in my opinion, the attractions you have added are infinitely superior to what she received from nature” (Chapter 6, 2nd paragraph). We can see Austen portray Mr.Elton’s admiration on Emma’s painting skills but Emma thinks that Mr.Elton is admiring Harriet instead. Emma’s continued belief of Mr.Elton liking Harriet is evident when Emma decodes Mr.Elton’s riddle and sees that its answer is the word “courtship.” After all, Emma convinces Harriet that the riddle predicts Mr.Elton’s proposal and that the marriage will offer Harriet “everything that [she] wants” (Chapter 9). From here, we can see that Emma cares about social class which is the reason why she denied Harriet from looking into Mr.Martin and instead believed that Mr.Elton, being in a high social class, would be a solution to all of Harriet’s problems. In other words, Emma is living in her own imagination and is trusting her own imagination rather than looking at the facts or the reality of the situation which is evident when Mr.Elton proposes to Emma. In fact, Elton assures Emma that he has never been interested in Harriet in the first place and that he loved Emma all along which makes Emma realize the lies she’s been creating for herself and Harriet. Therefore, Emma creates this dangerous situation by believing in her own imagination that Mr.Elton loves Harriet, when in reality Mr.Elton’s love has always been for Emma.
Another case where Austen displays the moral lesson of the negative effects of trusting in our imagination can be seen when Mr. Knightley is unable to consider Frank Churchill in an unbiased way. After all, the attachment Mr.Knightley sees forming between Frank and Emma makes him develop a jealousy of Frank which forces him to dislike him but has no reasonable explanation to his dissatisfaction. After all in the novel, Mr.Knightley says “Hum! just the trifling, silly fellow I took him for” (Chapter 25). Then later on, the narrator is explicit with why Mr.Knightley was against Frank Churchill saying that “[Mr.Knightley] had been in love with Emma, and jealous of Frank Churchill, from about the same period.” So for Mr.Knightley to be jealous of Frank Churchill and deny that Emma is the reason that he’s acting against Frank hints at the moral lesson of how people should look at the actual facts of the situation and not live by their own instincts and emotions.
Lastly, Frank Churchill flirting with Emma for the motive of using her to disguise his real preference causes him to wrongly believe that she is aware of the situation between him and Jane. In the beginning when the trip to Box Hill was dull to Emma, Frank was able to brighten up the mood by “making her his first object and giving every distinguishing attention to her”(Chapter 43). But it’s important to point out that these actions were motivated by a need to maintain the secrecy of his engagement to Jane Fairfax. This was seen when Mrs. Weston forwards Emma a letter from Frank in which he explains his actions to Emma (Chapter 50). After Jane knew about this, the couple had a dispute at the Donwell Abbey party since Jane was upset about Frank’s sexual behavior toward Emma. Jane thought this was an inappropriate way to maintain their secret. As a result, Frank left to go to Richmond, and Jane sent him a letter specifying that she wanted to break off the engagement. As we can see, for Frank to flirt with Emma thinking that she already knows the relationship between him and Jane came with consequences. These consequences were a product of Frank’s instinct and imagination that led him to mistakenly believe that Emma didn’t know about his relationship, when in reality she did. Therefore, Austen’s portrayal of Frank Churchill flirting with Emma is another case of where we can see this moral lesson of the dangers of trusting in our instincts and imagination rather than in the facts of the situation.
In conclusion, from these events that took place in Emma, Jane Austen’s wants us to be reminded of an important moral lesson which is that all humans need to be cautious of claiming to be completely truthful and acting on it, because there are so many instances where we tend to be wrong about that “truth.” Through this novel, Austen wants us to see that there are consequences to us from living in our imagination and instincts where we should instead focus on the facts of the situation.