At the party, Mr. Elton continues to hover around Emma. He irritates her by expressing greater concern regarding Harriet’s sickness for Emma's sake rather than her friend’s. She finds his behavior offensive and presumptuous.
Emma finds Mr. Elton’s attentions to her presumptuous and upsetting: he is not her equal, and his behavior disturbs her matchmaking fantasy for Harriet.
Mr. John Knightley announces that the heavy snow will soon make it impossible to travel. Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella are horrified at the prospect of traversing through the storm. The party quickly breaks up, with Mr. Woodhouse, Isabella, and Mr. John Knightley in one carriage, and Emma followed into another by Mr. Elton.
Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella’s sensitivity to the slightest disturbances demonstrates how sheltered they are as high-class individuals. They have little conception of real disasters and fret over any changes to their everyday routines.
To Emma’s horror, once they are alone in the carriage, Mr. Elton immediately proceeds to declare his love for her with extravagant language, and proposes. Emma assumes he must be drunk, and she reminds him of his love for Harriet. Mr. Elton responds with great surprise, and Emma loses her temper at his inconstancy and presumption.
To the very end, Emma is unable to see the obvious: even when Mr. Elton reveals his intentions towards her, she assumes her prior perception of his attentions was accurate, and that he must be drunk and inconstant.
Mr. Elton insists that he has been interested in Emma all along, and that Harriet has never even crossed his mind. He insinuates that Emma cannot seriously have doubted him, and that she has long known of and encouraged his intentions.
Just as Emma has been interpreting Mr. Elton’s behavior according to her fancy, he has been reading her encouragement according to his desires.
When the extent of their misunderstanding becomes clear, Mr. Elton is in turn offended that Emma should pair him with Harriet, whom he believes below him. Emma denies that she has given him any encouragement and firmly rejects him. They travel the rest of the way in silence, both greatly angry and offended.
Mr. Elton dismisses Harriet for the same reasons that Emma desire that Harriet dismiss Mr. Martin: he believes her to be of an inferior social class. Just as Emma takes offense at his presumption in proposing to her, he takes offense at her presumption in pairing him with Harriet.