The Vain Spirit and Serious Spirit

“‘Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?’

‘Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.–If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it’ (292).

Mr. Knightly’s comment on Emma’s two sides perfectly sums up Emma’s character and demonstrates Emma’s growth throughout the novel. There are many areas in which Emma’s character needs to grow. However, her biggest is needing to, as Mr. Knightly puts it, let her serious side tell her vain side when she is wrong. Emma’s changes becomes noticeable when her “serious spirit” overcomes her “vain spirit” more often than not.

One of the biggest moments of self reflection is after the Box-Hill incident. While Emma acted wrongly, she evaluates herself more than she does in any other part of the novel. She notes, “She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so […] But it should be be so no more. She would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse” (327). This is when Emma begins to truly attempt to listen to her serious spirit more than her vain spirit.

Emma’s views on Jane Fairfax change drastically throughout the novel. Emma is always uncertain of Jane as Jane gives little insight to what she is feeling or thinking. However, she finally puts aside her vain spirit in regards to Jane Fairfax when she apologizes. “I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let us forgive each other at once” (387).

By the end of the novel, Emma has not changed completely, which reflects a realistic view of her character. She still believes she is right in certain ways, but she reevaluates herself and holds back more than she did in the beginning of the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Emma manipulated Harriet into declining Mr. Martin’s proposal, and she denies to Mr. Knightly that she persuaded Harriet. She responds to his accusation by saying, “And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing, I should not feel that I had done wrong” (97). In this instance, her vain spirit trumps her serious spirit.

However, when Emma hears of Harriet’s engagement to Mr. Martin at the end, she does not become completely ecstatic or accepting of Mr. Martin. She still doesn’t believe that Harriet would accept his proposal. “Are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him” (397). However, instead of expressing disdain or arguing that Harriet is too good for Mr. Martin, Emma accepts their marriage by saying, “I am perfectly satisfied, and most sincerely wish them happy” (398). While Emma hasn’t completely changed her mind about Mr. Martin, she doesn’t let her vain spirit and judgement take precedence.

Emma can be classified as a bildungsroman because Emma does undergo changes. It’s uncharacteristic of Emma to completely change her views, but she does grow as a character when she doesn’t let her vain side dominate.

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