Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Revision study questions and essay topics for Jane Austen's "Emma"

Revision Study Questions and Essay Topics for Jane Austen’s Emma

Edexcel’s Assessment Objectives for this novel are broken down by marks awarded as follows:

10% 5i

You need to show understanding of the contexts in which literary texts are written and understood. (The literary context, position of women, pertinent themes, historical events, the importance of marriage, status, duty, folly, the big houses, theme of self knowledge, renewal of important families for political stability, etc.)

5% 1

Write in a manner that show knowledge, understanding and insight appropriate for literary study, using appropriate literary terms and accurate written expression.

5% 2i

Show that you can respond with knowledge and understanding to literary texts of different types and periods. ( Show that you can write about “Emma”.)

5% 3

Show detailed understanding of Austen’s use of form, structure and language and how this can shape meanings. (That is narrative stance, development of characterisation, contrasts between chapters, plot construction and the arrangement of events within the novel for emotional or artistic effects, the narrator’s use of irony, how chapters help develop chapters or themes, the use of “penetration”, climax or turning point, openings and endings, narration verses enactment, tone, etc.)

5% 4

Be prepared to give independent opinions and judgements, informed (influenced) by interpretations of the novel by other readings/readers of the novel. See my cards!)

Study Questions

1. Emma experiences several major revelations in the novel that fundamentally change her understanding of herself and those around her. Which revelation do you think is most important to Emma’s development, and why?

Remember that you would need brief, killer quotations to support your points so you can then make sustained comments on your evidence where appropriate.

Answer for Study Question #1

One way to answer this question would be to recognize that Emma undergoes her most decisive transformation when Mr. Elton proposes to her. At this point, she realises that she has been completely misguided in her interpretation of Elton’s behaviour, and she also realises that she herself is implicated in the courtship games that she believed she was manipulating from the sidelines. Another possible answer would focus on Emma’s revelation when Mr. Knightley reprimands her after she has insulted Miss Bates. At this moment, Emma understands that her vain pleasure in Frank’s flirtations and her sense of superiority to others in the community have been wrong. She also realises how much Knightley’s opinion means to her. One might also argue that Emma’s decisive transformation takes place when she realises that she loves Knightley, or when she agrees to marry him. A successful answer would consider the intensity of Austen’s language together with plot developments. For example, the episode in which Knightley reprimands Emma for insulting Miss Bates seems relatively unimportant in terms of the plot, but this scene includes some of the most emotional and dramatic language in the book.

2. In what ways, if at all, might Emma be considered a feminist novel?

Answer for Study Question #2
Emma may be considered a feminist novel because it focuses upon the struggles and development of a strong, intelligent woman. Though Emma’s activities—visits, parties, courtship, and marriage—are limited to the traditional sphere, the novel implicitly -critiques these limitations, and implies that Emma deserves a wider stage on which to exercise her powers. Furthermore, the novel -criticises the fact that women must be financially dependent by sympathetically depicting the vulnerability of Jane and Miss Bates.

Alternatively, the novel could be considered antifeminist because it seems to suggest that Emma reaches the pinnacle of her development when she accepts the corrections of a man, Mr. Knightley. Not only does Emma give up her former vow of celibate independence, but she marries an older man who is a father figure.

3. Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightley represent two different sets of values and two different understandings of manhood. Describe the values that each character represents, and explain how the novel judges these values.

Answer for Study Question #3
Frank Churchill is seen by many of the characters as an ideal man because of his good looks, warmth, and charm. He focuses most of his attention on determining what will please each person, and he makes his compliments with wit and style. However, the novel demonstrates that Frank is also flighty, unstable, and able to put his own wishes above social and moral propriety. Mr. Knightley, conversely, is Frank’s opposite in many ways. Though also polite and affectionate with those he cares for, Knightley is dignified and reserved. When he expresses an opinion, it is always the correct one and is stated with simplicity and firmness. The novel clearly values Knightley’s qualities above Frank’s. But the fact that Frank is forgiven at the end and rewarded with the love of a superior woman suggests that the book cannot entirely renounce its infatuation with Frank’s charms.

Suggested Essay Topics
1. To what extent does the narrator express approval of Emma, and to what extent does the narrator criticise her? Choose a passage from the novel and analyse the sympathy and/or ironic judgment the narrator expresses in relation to the protagonist.

2. Emma is filled with dialogue in which characters misunderstand each other. Choose a scene from the novel and describe the mixture of knowledge and ignorance that each character possesses, and how their situations influence the way they interpret each other’s statements. To what extent are we positioned to correct the misunderstanding, and to what extent do we share the misunderstanding until we have more information?

3. How does humour work in the novel? Select a speech made by Mr. Woodhouse, Miss Bates, or Mrs. Elton and describe the techniques Austen uses to make these characters look foolish. What contradictions, hypocrisies, or absurdities are put in their mouths? To what extent do we judge these characters negatively when we see that they are laughable?

4. Emma both questions and upholds traditional class distinctions. What message do you think the novel ultimately conveys about class?

5. Emma is clever but continually mistaken, kind-hearted but capable of callous behaviour. Austen commented that Emma is a heroine “no one but myself will much like.” Do you find Emma likable? Why or why not?

For more active exam practice
Try a timed answer or two using questions from past papers. You should also practice by unpacking questions' key words and phrases to get at their underlying assessment objectives and make brief essay plans.

(Take 10 minutes or so to compose a plan either as a spidergram or in bullet points. Either will help you impose a structure on your essay.)

Why not compose a question or two using the assessment criteria? If you revise with a friend you can set each other a question. This would be a very useful exercise and make you think about the text in an active manner. With luck you might even forecast the question that you will get in the Exam! There are only so many types of questions they can ask you.

Good luck – but I am sure that you can make your own!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Useful, Thanks!!

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I teach Film, Media and English Lit.