Emma, while a tale that is seemingly led by an overwritten, pretentious and presumptuous protagonist, holds under the surface a strong observation on the characteristic of the human psyche and the ways in which is can potentially lash out into the physical world. Rather than a ‘soppy romance’ as one might see it, it’s an intimidating confrontation with ourselves. Moreover, it confronts the inner conflict we all feel between opinion and behaviour.
Emma, like anyone else, has individual opinions characterised by her upbringing and views; living in Highbury placed her within a society that values the social positions of others to form opinions on people, families, and in Emma’s context, marriages. While Emma understandably, may seem like an ‘unrealistic character’ because of her outwardly controlling nature, she may be also observed as the realistic inner workings and desires of the human mind. More specifically, the relationship between her and Mr Knightly can be identified as a parallel to Sigmund Freud’s idea of the human psyche, this being a theoretical idea on how the human conscious and unconscious work together. The id, is the life and death instinct (controlling one’s response to food, safety, and reproduction) and the superego is the outward actions to meet such needs. Where Emma oversteps boundaries, Mr Knightley is usually there to reign her in, taking on the ideals of the human id and superego respectively. Emma’s extreme interest in match-matching can essentially boil down the much-carried tradition of marriage for childbearing and maintaining lineage as strong as possible throughout time, representing even the most prehistoric human habits of survival, which Freud determined as part of the id and its survival instinct. Comparatively, Mr Knightly acts as the inner voice of reason throughout the novel, or as the superego, which takes on the role of ensuring that moral disciplines are followed out, consequently that Emma isn’t overstepping any boundaries or getting too involved in other’s relationships. Like a singular person’s id and superego contrast and conflict, Emma and Mr Knightley’s views on the setting up of couples also contrast.
While this may seem like a way of presenting archetype characters to the reader, it is indeed a fleshing out of the human mind and what we are all capable of thinking, as well as the different ways we can choose to listen to ourselves. Being an observation of the human psyche, it can also be an observation of society of humanity entirely, and human behaviour since prehistoric history, it can boldly be said that it is a testament to the tale of mankind throughout time. It takes a second reading to get past the romance contained all within a small-kept setting, but stripping this down, Emma gets personal with the reader’s own psyche that is so relevant, it is potentially intimidating.