Saturday, April 12, 2008

Emma, Harriet and Jane

is deemed to be Jane Austen’s finest novel.I wouldn’t delve into how this is so; for I think there are many literature enthusiasts and critics who can discuss this matter better. What I find personally interesting is that the characters of the novel --- Emma, Harriet and Jane seem to be description of some people we meet in our everyday life.

In the novel, Emma (the heroine) is a bright, pretty, rich, independent young girl whose only problem seems to be a lack of (or very few) purpose in life or something to work for. Out of her idea to be a match-maker, she takes in Harriet --- a pretty, impressionable and if I may add, not very bright-but-eager-to-improve herself young girl as her protégé. Emma might truly want to help, but it seems that part of it is due to boredom and a sense of high opinion of herself. In the process of “grooming” Harriet, Emma only confused her ward instead of helping her find her true self.

Emma longs to have a companion who matches her intelligence, wit and skills. This someone happens to be Jane who came to live with her aunt in Emma’s town.We would suppose they should get along well for they are almost at par in mental aptitude and accomplishments except that Jane doesn’t have the financial security that Emma has. But Emma, instead of liking Jane, becomes jealous of her because despite the latter's socio-economic status, she's Emma's equal in everything. Adding the fact that Jane is reserved and not easily influenced no matter how Emma goads or sways her way of thinking, she becomes the target of Emma’s malice.

But of course, in the end, everything went well for all the main characters in the novel. After all, Emma is, in all honesty, fundamentally good. She’s neither categorically manipulative or vindictive. Her intentions are not totally selfish or cold-hearted. It’s just that boredom and jealousy clouded her vision of Harriet and Jane. She never really tried to know them before judging and/or “helping” them. Hence, her meddling and interference resulted to misunderstandings, misconceptions and false expectations. However Emma, despite being what we would now call a “spoiled brat”, knows how to accept her mistakes and make efforts to right them before things are too late. So, errors were corrected, pretensions were dropped and they found their true selves and what they really want and need in life.

But that’s in the fictional world. Sad to say, there are some Emmas in this world whose malice, jealousy and high opinion of themselves are so deeply seated in their psyche that they could not see the errors in their ways. They are so self-centered that they forget that people are not pawns to be used or manipulated to get what they want, to spite and destroy those they don’t like or just to emphasize their self-importance. To the Janes of this world who do not easily give in, the Emmas malign and vilify them. What’s more dangerous is that they use ruse and deceptions to do this. They use the Harriets, hiding behind the mask of a Good Samaritan, pretending to “help” for the end purpose of using them to prove their authority and superiority and to manipulate them into ruining the Janes without implicating themselves.

I’m not saying this is how the world has come to be. I still believe that there are many out there who are genuinely decent and kindhearted, whose willingness to help is not borne out of spite but out of true goodness and a desire to help… that they know how to discern authentic concern from false ones… that they cannot just be manipulated for they know their own mind… that they are able to see through their misjudgments and act without hesitation to put their views and opinions in the correct perspective.It’s just that when we are so caught up in what’s going on around us, maybe we should take a step back from time to time to see the scenario with fresh, objective eyes. Perhaps, there are Emmas, Harriets and Janes among the people we are dealing with. If that is so, then maybe it’s up to us to guide them accordingly, without judgment and self-righteousness like Mr. Knightley (another character in the novel) to Emma. If we find ourselves becoming like Emma, perhaps we should have enough humility to accept that we are overstepping our bounds and mend our ways in order to truthfully assist others. If we turn out to be Jane, I guess it’s time to come out of our reservations to give others a better perspective not only of who we are but also of the difficult situation other are finding themselves in. As for being Harriet, maybe we should try to know ourselves better so we cannot be easily swayed or influenced against what we truly believe in.


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