Foreshadowing

Emma

by

Jane Austen

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Emma: Foreshadowing 5 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Chapter 5
Explanation and Analysis—Knightley's Wisdom:

Throughout the novel, Knightley’s wisdom and insights into various characters’ motivations and desires foreshadows outcomes that Emma is not able to see. For example, in Chapter 5 Knightley sees how, in their budding friendship, Harriet will acquiesce to all of Emma’s wishes and how the relationship won’t be good for either of them:

“I think her the very worst sort of companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing. She is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority?”

Knightley’s concerns prove to be justified as Harriet follows Emma’s advice to decline Mr. Martin's marriage proposal despite the fact that she loves him and believes them to be a good match. Harriet also allows Emma to convince her that Mr. Elton has feelings for her when there is very little evidence to support it (and Emma turns out to be wrong).

Knightley also foreshadows Mr. Elton’s lack of feelings for Harriet in Chapter 8, when he tells Emma:

“Depend upon it, Elton will not do. Elton is a very good sort of man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match. He knows the value of a good income as well as anybody. Elton may talk sentimentally, but he will act rationally.”

Emma only learns that Knightley read Mr. Elton’s feelings correctly when Mr. Elton tells her point blank that he would never marry Harriet based on their difference in status.

Knightley also foreshadows Frank’s feelings for Jane and sees through Emma’s pride when others cannot. Ultimately, Knightley’s wisdom itself also foreshadows the fact that he will end up as Emma’s love interest, as his ability to perceive and tell the truth is an important part of what makes him such an alluring partner to Emma.

Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Knightley's Wisdom:

Throughout the novel, Knightley’s wisdom and insights into various characters’ motivations and desires foreshadows outcomes that Emma is not able to see. For example, in Chapter 5 Knightley sees how, in their budding friendship, Harriet will acquiesce to all of Emma’s wishes and how the relationship won’t be good for either of them:

“I think her the very worst sort of companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing. She is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority?”

Knightley’s concerns prove to be justified as Harriet follows Emma’s advice to decline Mr. Martin's marriage proposal despite the fact that she loves him and believes them to be a good match. Harriet also allows Emma to convince her that Mr. Elton has feelings for her when there is very little evidence to support it (and Emma turns out to be wrong).

Knightley also foreshadows Mr. Elton’s lack of feelings for Harriet in Chapter 8, when he tells Emma:

“Depend upon it, Elton will not do. Elton is a very good sort of man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match. He knows the value of a good income as well as anybody. Elton may talk sentimentally, but he will act rationally.”

Emma only learns that Knightley read Mr. Elton’s feelings correctly when Mr. Elton tells her point blank that he would never marry Harriet based on their difference in status.

Knightley also foreshadows Frank’s feelings for Jane and sees through Emma’s pride when others cannot. Ultimately, Knightley’s wisdom itself also foreshadows the fact that he will end up as Emma’s love interest, as his ability to perceive and tell the truth is an important part of what makes him such an alluring partner to Emma.

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Chapter 10
Explanation and Analysis—Emma and Knightley:

Emma and Knightley ending up married is an example of situational irony because, throughout the novel, Emma makes it clear that she sees him more as a friend and also swears that she will never get married, as in this conversation with Harriet:

“I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.”

The irony is heightened by the fact that Emma has speculated and gossiped about Knightley’s potential feelings for both Jane and Harriet and, though she does not consider them good matches, is not (consciously, at least) aware of her feelings for him.

Despite all this, Austen makes sure to foreshadow Emma and Knightley’s eventual nuptials, such as when Knightley says that he prefers women who are not reserved:

“Jane Fairfax has feeling,” said Mr. Knightley—“I do not accuse her of want of feeling. Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong—and her temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-controul; but it wants openness. She is reserved, more reserved, I think, than she used to be—And I love an open temper.”

Emma, of course, is the woman in his life who best displays this sort of “open temper,” a hint that Austen hopes readers will pick up on so that the eventual reveal and Emma and Knightley’s mutual affection doesn’t come too out of the blue.

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Chapter 13
Explanation and Analysis—Overcharged Sky:

As Emma is on her way to a Christmas Eve dinner party at the Westons’ near the beginning of the novel, she uses imagery to describe the weather and sky:

The cold, however, was severe; and by the time the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time.

The “overcharged” sky and threat of a snowstorm not set the scene, such that readers feel like they are in that chilly carriage alongside Emma. But these elements also communicate that just as snow is building up and wants to be released from the sky, something is building up between the characters that will also soon be released.

In this way, the imagery successfully foreshadows the conversation Emma is about to have with Mr. Elton, in which he reveals that his feelings for her have been building over the past few months and that he wants to be with her rather than Harriet (as Emma suspects).

It is important to note that the storm is also what leads all of the characters to leave the party early, putting Emma and Mr. Elton into the close quarters of a carriage together, making it possible for him to propose marriage to her. The cold also allows readers to feel on edge heading into the scene.

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Chapter 26
Explanation and Analysis—Emma's Feelings:

Though Emma is not aware of her growing romantic feelings for Knightley for the majority of the novel, Austen subtly foreshadows their impending engagement. For example, in Chapter 26, Emma shows signs of jealousy when Knightley speaks of marrying one day:

Her objections to Mr. Knightley’s marrying did not in the least subside. She could see nothing but evil in it. It would be a great disappointment to Mr. John Knightley; consequently to Isabella. A real injury to the children—a most mortifying change, and material loss to them all;—a very great deduction from her father’s daily comfort—and, as to herself, she could not at all endure the idea of Jane Fairfax at Donwell Abbey.

Here, Emma convinces herself it’s not that she’s opposed to Knightley marrying anyone, she’s just sure that he’s not a good match for Jane. Still, readers can tell that her reaction is out of proportion and hints at Emma's deeper feelings for Knightley.

In Chapter 38, after witnessing the way that Knightley saved Harriet from embarrassment by asking her to dance at a ball, Emma asks Knightley if he will dance with her next. After he says yes, she mentions how, despite some people considering them to be like siblings, she does not:

“You have shown that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

This moment shows that Emma sees Knightley as something separate from a family member, hinting at the possibility of him as a romantic interest. And the fact that Knightley then responds “no, indeed” subtly foreshadows his feelings as well.

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Chapter 33
Explanation and Analysis—Emma and Knightley:

Emma and Knightley ending up married is an example of situational irony because, throughout the novel, Emma makes it clear that she sees him more as a friend and also swears that she will never get married, as in this conversation with Harriet:

“I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.”

The irony is heightened by the fact that Emma has speculated and gossiped about Knightley’s potential feelings for both Jane and Harriet and, though she does not consider them good matches, is not (consciously, at least) aware of her feelings for him.

Despite all this, Austen makes sure to foreshadow Emma and Knightley’s eventual nuptials, such as when Knightley says that he prefers women who are not reserved:

“Jane Fairfax has feeling,” said Mr. Knightley—“I do not accuse her of want of feeling. Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong—and her temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-controul; but it wants openness. She is reserved, more reserved, I think, than she used to be—And I love an open temper.”

Emma, of course, is the woman in his life who best displays this sort of “open temper,” a hint that Austen hopes readers will pick up on so that the eventual reveal and Emma and Knightley’s mutual affection doesn’t come too out of the blue.

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Chapter 37
Explanation and Analysis—A Crisis:

In a moment of subtle foreshadowing in the middle of the novel, Emma reflects on how she does not want Frank to confess his feelings for her (a misperception she has made given Frank is secretly engaged to Jane at this point) and senses a “crisis” on the horizon:

She wished she might be able to keep him from an absolute declaration. That would be so very painful a conclusion of their present acquaintance!—and yet, she could not help rather anticipating something decisive. She felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state.

Though Emma is incorrect about what the “crisis” to come will be given Frank’s feelings for Jane, she astutely foreshadows that something will “alter her present composed and tranquil state.” This, of course, actually turns out to be the combination of Frank and Jane announcing their secret engagement, along with Knightley and Emma revealing their feelings for each other and becoming engaged themselves.

Emma’s ability to sense that there is something beneath the surface in Highbury that will soon come to light shows that while her misperceptions and meddling have certainly been ill-advised in many cases, she is not completely misattuned to her community.

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Chapter 38
Explanation and Analysis—Emma's Feelings:

Though Emma is not aware of her growing romantic feelings for Knightley for the majority of the novel, Austen subtly foreshadows their impending engagement. For example, in Chapter 26, Emma shows signs of jealousy when Knightley speaks of marrying one day:

Her objections to Mr. Knightley’s marrying did not in the least subside. She could see nothing but evil in it. It would be a great disappointment to Mr. John Knightley; consequently to Isabella. A real injury to the children—a most mortifying change, and material loss to them all;—a very great deduction from her father’s daily comfort—and, as to herself, she could not at all endure the idea of Jane Fairfax at Donwell Abbey.

Here, Emma convinces herself it’s not that she’s opposed to Knightley marrying anyone, she’s just sure that he’s not a good match for Jane. Still, readers can tell that her reaction is out of proportion and hints at Emma's deeper feelings for Knightley.

In Chapter 38, after witnessing the way that Knightley saved Harriet from embarrassment by asking her to dance at a ball, Emma asks Knightley if he will dance with her next. After he says yes, she mentions how, despite some people considering them to be like siblings, she does not:

“You have shown that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

This moment shows that Emma sees Knightley as something separate from a family member, hinting at the possibility of him as a romantic interest. And the fact that Knightley then responds “no, indeed” subtly foreshadows his feelings as well.

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