Mr. Knightley visits the next morning to congratulate Emma on her improvement in manner towards Jane, only to discover that her distaste remains intact. The Bateses bursts into the room to thank the Woodhouses for a gift of pork and report that Mr. Elton is going to be married to a Miss Hawkins. They chatter for a while and then depart.
Mr. Knightley’s constant challenging of Emma’s character reveals his attentive interest in her development; yet despite his critiques of Emma, he faithfully believes in her goodness and improvement.
Emma is pleased with this confirmation of the shallowness of Mr. Elton’s professed love for her, but she is sorry for Harriet. Emma resolves to inform Harriet as soon as possible, to save her from hearing it from insensitive sources.
Despite the harm Emma has inadvertently done to Harriet, she possesses real feeling and concern for her friend’s welfare and attempts to be active in its protection.
A flustered Harriet arrives at Hartfield; she has just run into Mr. Martin and his sister in town. Harriet felt very miserably trapped upon seeing them, but after the initial awkwardness both brother and sister approached her with great kindness. Harriet trembles with gratitude at the goodness of their behavior, which she points out with pleasure to Emma.
In spite of her weakness and dependency upon Emma, Harriet has a grateful and humble heart that recognizes the Martins’s kindness and is wretched over wronging them. She is quick to admire the merits of others, with no inflated sense of her own.
Emma is unsettled, as she considers the good-hearted Martins. She feels some discomfort at her own judgment of them. However, she concludes that the evils of their low connections are more important, that she was right to protect Harriet from them, and she dismisses the affair.
Emma’s good sense recognizes the Martins’s remarkable kindness, but she cannot move past her snobbish assessment of their unworthiness due to their class.
Harriet, however, cannot stop thinking about the Martins, so Emma finally shares the news regarding Mr. Elton’s engagement to distract her. Harriet’s interest in Mr. Elton supersedes her turmoil over the Martins. Emma rests comforted by the fact that Harriet will now be forever safe from the Martins, altogether dismissing the significance of their enduring kindness towards her friend.
Emma easily manipulates the malleable Harriet, whose shifting attentions reveal a lack of conviction within her heart. However, Emma’s excessive self-assurance reveals that conviction—particularly when it is misplaced—may be an even greater evil, as she inadvertently harms the friend she professes to protect.