Depiction Of Wealth in Jane Austen's Emma

Categories: Jane Austen

Depiction of Wealth in Emma and Clueless

Like most of Jane Austen’s novels, Emma deals with the concept of wealth and social status and its impact on relationships. The film Clueless, released in 1995, puts a modern twist on the classic novel published in 1815. Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of Emma, is a wealthy twenty-year-old girl who resides in the small, upscale town of Highbury in England. Cher Horowitz, the main character in Clueless, is a rich high school girl who lives in the affluent town of Beverly Hills, California.

As young, beautiful, and wealthy girls, Emma and Cher have both lived simple and carefree lives. Since they both have nothing to worry about they enjoy match-making and finding relationships for their friends, as well as themselves, in their spare time. Both girls fail to coordinate wealth and social statuses when searching for potential candidates to match-make. In Austen’s time, marriage was a way to improve one’s social status and move up in society.

Get quality help now
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Wealth

star star star star 5 (339)

“ KarrieWrites did such a phenomenal job on this assignment! He completed it prior to its deadline and was thorough and informative. ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Emma and Cher take this method into consideration while match-making, but various instances within both works prove that it doesn’t always work out. Although both Clueless and Emma portray romantically based relationships, upon closer inspection, it is evident that regardless of romantic compatibility, equality of social status is the primary factor of a successful relationship.

Emma and Cher both attempt to use match-making to raise their friends’ social status, but it doesn’t end up working out. It is originally unknown if Emma’s friend Harriet is from wealthy decent or not.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

She is “‘the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all’” (Austen 61). Without consideration of this, she decides to set Harriet up with Mr. Elton, the most eligible bachelor of Highbury. Mr. Elton rejects this relationship due to the fact that Harriet is below him in the social hierarchy. Instead, he professes his love to Emma. Emma rejects his love because she sees herself as above him. “Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family - and that the Eltons were nobody” (Austen 108). To Emma, Mr. Elton is good enough for Harriet because Harriet is either below him or equal to him in status. To Mr. Elton, Harriet isn’t good enough for him, but Emma is because she is ranked above him. It is clear that Emma places herself at the top of the social hierarchy because she sees herself as above Mr. Elton who is said to be the most eligible bachelor. There is a very similar situation in Clueless between Cher and her friends Tai and Elton. Tai is the new girl who appears sloppy and in need of a makeover. Cher takes her under her wing and fixes her appearance and attempts to set her up with a boy who can make her popular. Cher says that there is one group of guys that are worthy of their attention, so she decides to set her up with the most suitable one, Elton. Elton, like Mr. Elton, rejects this set-up. He states that him and Cher belong together because of who his father is and who she is. He says that him and Cher make sense, while him and Tai do not. Cher originally told Tai that he is the most desirable boy in the school, but evidently he isn’t good enough for Cher. Both of these situations depict social status as one of the most important factors in establishing a relationship. If there are no social benefits to a certain relationship, it is not intelligent to get involved in it.

While Emma and Cher do not believe that they are in need of a relationship, they both fall for men who they believe are suitable for their social status. Emma believes that Frank Churchill is perfect for her due to his wealth, intelligence, and familial ties. “The Frank Churchill so long talked of, so high in interest, was actually before her - he was presented to her, and she did not think too much had been said in his praise; he was a very good looking young man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father's; he looked quick and sensible. She felt immediately that she should like him; and there was a well-bred ease of manner, and a readiness to talk, which convinced her that he came intending to be acquainted with her, and that acquainted they soon must be” (Austen 149). Emma believes that she is in love with Frank Churchill, but really she is just blinded by his image. She has heard so much about him that she is fascinated by his life and wants to be a part of it. The problem is that even though he is established and wealthy, he is completely dependent on his aunt, and secretly in love with the “orphan” (Austen 127), Jane Fairfax. Emma feels that someone of those qualities is not worthy of her love. In Clueless, Cher begins to feel the same way as Emma did about a new boy in their school named Christian. He appears perfect on the outside. He is rich, attractive, and chivalrous, but something is not right about him. Cher finds out that he is gay and therefore, they obviously cannot and should not be together. Emma and Cher both begin to realize that they need to stop falling for the wrong boys and search for someone who not only deserves their attention, but wants it too. It is an eye-opening moment for both characters when they are rejected because they begin to realize that in a relationship there needs to be a balance of love and care for one another, as well as an equality of status.

Both Emma and Cher recognize the importance of two people in a relationship having equal wealth and therefore equal social status. Emma is appalled by Harriet’s interest in Mr. Knightley. She wanted nothing more than to set Harriet up with a wealthy and respectable man, but once Knightley was in the picture, she couldn’t approve a relationship between them. “Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith! - Such an elevation on her side! Such a debasement on his! It was horrible to Emma to think how it must sink him in the general opinion, to foresee the smiles, the sneers, the merriment it would prompt at his expense; the mortification and disdain of his brother, the thousand inconveniences to himself. - Could it be? - No; it was impossible” (Austen 325). Emma believes that Harriet just simply is not good enough for a man like Knightley. She is beginning to recognize that a relationship between two parties that are of different social standings would not work. If Knightley and Harriet were in a relationship, Harriet would move up in class, while Knightley would sink down in rank. Emma decides that the only person who is good enough for him is her. “A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress; she touched--she admitted--she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” (Austen 365). Emma realizes that Knightley and her are not only on the same level of wealth and social status, but she is also in love with him. He is perfect for her in every aspect and he was right in front of her the whole time. The reason that their relationship works is because of their equality in wealth and social status. In Clueless, Cher has the same kind of epiphany as Emma does, with her ex-stepbrother Josh. Josh, like Knightley, was always honest and caring towards Cher. He was always there as a friend and father-figure, so she never thought that their relationship could turn into anything romantic. After hearing Tai express an interest in him, Cher got upset and disapproving of her crush on him. She didn’t believe that Tai was good enough for him. Cher realizes that she’s the only person who is good enough for Josh. She decided that he is intelligent, hard-working, attractive, caring, and totally perfect for her. His mom used to be married to Cher’s dad, so they are also ranked equally in status and are similar in wealth. Also, since Josh is in college and Cher is in high school, he is eligible on Cher’s terms. They work as a couple because of their personalities, and also because of who they are in society.

The ideas of status within Emma and Clueless are portrayed in very similar ways. Since Emma was published in 1815, it demonstrates less modern views but maintains the theme that wealth determines social status and that marriage was often based off of that rank. Clueless, released in 1915, is a more modern interpretation of the same views.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
Cite this page

Depiction Of Wealth in Jane Austen's Emma. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment