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Symbolism in Emma

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As one of the most profound female writers in history, Jane Austen has provided the world with numerous tales of coming of age, female growth and development in a world where they are so often rebuked for having a thought or mind of their own. Rather than merely reaffirm the societal notions of female domesticity and subservience, Austen creates a host of female characters that readers of the same gender can look up to. Symbolism in EmmaIn Emma, such characters abound, and the novel as a whole is enhanced by Austen’s use of symbols to add depth to their overall characterization and action.

The greatest symbols in this particular novel revolve around demonstrating Emma’s cleverness to the reader. Early in the novel, Mr. Elton gives a riddle to Emma and Harriet, and the former is able to solve it rather quickly. Unlike Harriet, Emma’s is intellectually sharp and quick-witted overall. Later in the novel, Austen again uses a logic-based puzzle to represent this trait possessed by Emma. The word game played by Emma, Frank, and Jane gives Emma not only the opportunity shine once again, but also demonstrates a favored trait of the character: imperfection. In the first riddle, Emma solved it quickly, but applied it to the wrong individual. In this game, Emma is again demonstrating her intelligence, but the specific words being used reflect the human trend toward imperfection. Unlike countless other novels, where female characters are relegated to the background or perceived in a negative light, Emma provides readers with an intelligent heroine that is not ashamed to admit an error or flaw. She embraces her abilities, and tries to apply them as best she can to the situations she encounters, something female readers of any generation can look up to and learn from.

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