Tone

Emma

by

Jane Austen

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Emma: Tone 1 key example

Definition of Tone
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical, and so on. For instance... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Overall, the tone of Emma is playful, sarcastic, and tongue-in-cheek. The novel is a social comedy, after all, which means that Austen wants her readers to laugh and have an enjoyable reading experience. This playful tone comes across in Chapter 1, in the opening lines of the novel:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

This opening paragraph sets Emma up as a happy and unburdened character, preparing readers for a pleasant reading experience. That being said, the tone of the novel does become more serious as Emma faces situations that do distress her, such as in Chapter 43, when Knightley reprimands her for treating Miss Bates (a lower-class, widowed, and socially awkward character) cruelly:

She was vexed beyond what could have been expressed—almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of his representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates […] Time did not compose her. As she reflected more, she seemed but to feel it more. She never had been so depressed.

The language here captures the change in tone from the start of the book—Emma no longer has “little to distress or vex her,” but is “vexed beyond what could have been expressed,” and also “agitated,” “mortified,” “grieved,” “depressed.”

Though the novel has been lighthearted and full of humorous, ironic twists (as Emma misperceives nearly everyone’s romantic intentions), here the tone becomes heavy and earnest. Emma is no longer focusing on everyone else but instead facing her own pride and vanity—accepting that she has the capacity to hurt people—and Austen wants readers to feel the weight of that. The more earnest tone reaches a peak when Emma realizes that she is in love with Knightley and then levels off to a calmer and more peaceful tone for the final chapters of the book, as the characters prepare for their various weddings.

Chapter 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Overall, the tone of Emma is playful, sarcastic, and tongue-in-cheek. The novel is a social comedy, after all, which means that Austen wants her readers to laugh and have an enjoyable reading experience. This playful tone comes across in Chapter 1, in the opening lines of the novel:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

This opening paragraph sets Emma up as a happy and unburdened character, preparing readers for a pleasant reading experience. That being said, the tone of the novel does become more serious as Emma faces situations that do distress her, such as in Chapter 43, when Knightley reprimands her for treating Miss Bates (a lower-class, widowed, and socially awkward character) cruelly:

She was vexed beyond what could have been expressed—almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of his representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates […] Time did not compose her. As she reflected more, she seemed but to feel it more. She never had been so depressed.

The language here captures the change in tone from the start of the book—Emma no longer has “little to distress or vex her,” but is “vexed beyond what could have been expressed,” and also “agitated,” “mortified,” “grieved,” “depressed.”

Though the novel has been lighthearted and full of humorous, ironic twists (as Emma misperceives nearly everyone’s romantic intentions), here the tone becomes heavy and earnest. Emma is no longer focusing on everyone else but instead facing her own pride and vanity—accepting that she has the capacity to hurt people—and Austen wants readers to feel the weight of that. The more earnest tone reaches a peak when Emma realizes that she is in love with Knightley and then levels off to a calmer and more peaceful tone for the final chapters of the book, as the characters prepare for their various weddings.

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