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Published: 23-09-2019

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The Role of Miss Bates in "Emma"

Although Miss Bates, in Jane Austen’s Emma, may possibly initially be perceived as a minor character from afar, upon deeper evaluation it can be noted that she is of capital value in this novel. Serving as a representative of Highbury’s lower classes, Miss Bates not only gives readers an insight into their scenario, but she also serves as an example of the appropriate behaviour that would be expected from upper classes towards their social inferiors. Getting the town’s gossip also tends to make Miss Bates an critical source of news in Highbury and she also acts as a spokesperson for the mysterious and reserved Jane Fairfax.

Due to the reality that she is the daughter of the late vicar of Highbury, a single would expect Miss Bates to be living a pretty comfy life in terms of finance. However, she and her mother face the predicament of getting to survive on the charity of the benevolent members of the upper class. This leads us to conclude that the character of Miss Bates has been constructed in this way for Austen to be able to illustrate the relationships that exists among members of the upper class and their social inferiors. For example, it is mainly via the Bateses that Austen is in a position to show Mr Knightley as a model of correct gentlemanly behaviour, when he sends them apples from his own orchards and offers them the use of his carriage. Via the connection between Mr Knightley and Miss Bates, the author is in a position to convey the message that privilege entails duty.

Similarly, through Miss Bates, Austen is capable to draw on incorrect behaviour from the upper classes which stems from their superiority and lack of sensitivity towards the plight of the much less fortunate. Emma, for instance, initially fails to sympathise with Miss Bates as she is so occupied with avoiding the latter due to the fact of her ‘horror of falling in with the second and third rates of Highbury’. This careless and irresponsible behaviour leads to her snubbing and, consequently, seriously offending Miss Bates during the picnic at Box Hill. The reality that Mr Knightley reprimands Emma by saying ‘how could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a lady of her age, character and circumstance?’ – proves that Miss Bates is employed as a moral lesson by Austen. This leads us also to conclude that her part is of significance in Emma’s transformation as a character. Just as Mr Knightley’s outburst is a shocking eye-opener for us, it has the same impact on Emma. It is in truth this incident which serves as the catalyst for the turning point in the life of the protagonist.

One more moral lesson that Austen transmits by means of Miss Bates is the consequence of getting an unmarried lady in the decrease class of a patriarchal society. As illustrated by other female characters in the novel, such as Harriet Smith and Mrs Weston, Austen draws on the reality that it was necessary for women of low social standing to marry, to be in a position to safe monetary stability. Miss Bates stands as a lesson to characters like Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith, who fear having to finish up in a equivalent predicament as her. The conversation between Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse regarding the latter’s declaration that she will in no way marry is essential in illustrating this argument. Emma declaring, ‘fortune I do not want, employment I do not want…’, highlights the fact that as opposed to Miss Bates, she can pick not to marry as she is the heiress to thirty thousand pounds and for that reason has economic stability.

The character of Miss Bates not only illustrates critical arguments, bu is also utilized as a device by Austen to bring a sense of comedy and lightheartedness to the novel. Her incessant babble and adore for gossip make her a lady who enjoys a ‘high degree of reputation for a lady neither young, rich, handsome nor married’ in Highbury, and we cannot aid but contemplate her as an altogether likeable character. The truth that she focuses on trivial affairs and indirectly meddles in the lives of other folks also helps us to determine characters who are equivalent to her such as Mr Woodhouse. It is via his interactions with Miss Bates and other women that we see the rather effeminate side to Mr Woodhouse’s character. Moreover, what may possibly be seen as trivial gossip by Miss Bates is in fact an important supply of info in Emma. For example, it is by way of Miss Bates that we discover out about Mr Elton’s marriage and the information about his wife. Similarly, it is only via Miss Bates that we achieve insight into the otherwise reserved and mysterious character of Jane Fairfax. It is only via Miss Bate’s reading of Jane’s letters that we can conjure up an image of the latter just before she even arrives in Highbury. For that reason, we can say that Jane Austen makes use of Miss Bates to prepare the reader for Jane Fairfax’s arival into Highbury and to trigger us to turn into curious about the latter. For example, it is Miss Bates’s declaration that Mr Dixon saved Jane’s life that produce the romantic hyperlink between the two that both Emma and the readers feed upon.

The character of Miss Bates is pivotal in Jane Austen’s Emma. She not only serves as a representative of the reduced classes and as a device to model right upper class behaviour, but she is also important in the turning point in the life of the protagonist, Emma Woodhouse. Additionally she acts as a moral lesson for the fate of poor spinsters. Her endless talking and gossiping bring comedy to the novel, as well as delivering critical pieces of information.
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