Emma, as a character is seems strange to me, because she is a character who seeks to contradict her own actions, with the reality that she wants to create for herself. She believes herself first to be an expert on romantic issues, However this cannot be further from the truth. She fails repeatedly to match Harriet to anyone, and denies that she will ever be a bride. The reality of a romantic expert who can never find love is a daunting contradiction, that I believe was meant for the audience to attribute to the difficulties of finding a love of ones own in this time period. This theme is further explored with the revelation that Jane and Frank have been engaged the whole time. These two may love each other, but the circumstances of social maneuvering prevented them from being together until the major opposition literally died. In this novel you have to kill off family just to get a decent wife or husband, which is both historically pathetic and solemn at the same time.
Another moral that this romantic travesty brings to the table, is how bad that it is to meddle in someone else’s love life. Harriet is the main target for this moral, and if it was not for the second proposal by Mr. Martin the book would have ended with Harriet a spinster in training. The real problem for this is that Emma in creating her own world with Harriet as the plaything shows the audience how powerless a person of lower standing can be in the face of marriage. Though Harriet is a pushover and holds Emma in higher standards than she deserves, the fact is that the situation is remarkably similar to the plight of Jane and Frank.
The more that Jane weaves her idea of manners into the worlds she attempts to create, romantic or otherwise, the bigger failures they are. However, I do not believe that it is the problem with keeping a high standard of manners that is the problem, but a person’s interpretation of what is the correct social practice that causes the problems. While Emma is the worst example treating the lower financial class as a separate dimension her other half Mr. Knightley does the opposite. Instead he views people based on the character they possess rather than the formality of a haircut. It takes Emma far too long to realize the error in her judgement and it reaches the point where Mr. Knightley is put on the spot because Emma is too dense to realize the truth for herself.
I feel that Emma as a whole is meant to evoke the contradiction of the upper class. While they attempt to carry themselves in high regard, the energy wasted on pandering to a nonsensical social order leads to ruin more than success. Mr. Knightley is more than Emma’s husband, he represents what Austen sees as a true form of gentility. He is the better half that Austen wishes that more people who hold power would find.