Emma Versus. Clueless

How does Heckerling’s Clueless sustain interest in the values presented in Austen’s Emma?

Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, while maintaining the core plot and tone of Jane Austen’s Emma, sustains interest by its appropriation into a humorous teen flick in a post-modern style. Heckerling adopts the narrative and characterisation of the 19th century novel and transforms it to a contemporary film that satirises the consumer-driven world of 1990s Los Angeles, presenting it with a more blatant and slapstick humour to suit the changed values of society.

Emma is set in early 19th century Highbury, a parochial society dominated by class structure, which placed males of inherited wealth at the top of the strict social ladder. Austen illustrates a patriarchal society, in which in order to advance or maintain the female’s position in society, marriage is an absolute necessity. The responders are made aware of this by the portrayal of Miss Bates as the object of pity within Highbury. She is an unmarried middle-aged, middle-classed woman, everything women of that time aspired not to become. Knightley’s declaration “she has sunk from the comfort she was born to” highlights this inevitable link between class and marriage. Thus, Emma, being already considered in the highest social status, believes she can be removed from the imperative of marriage. She describes herself as having “none of the usual inducement of women to marry”, which further exemplifies marriage as being a tool for women to obtain wealth and position. Emma’s astonishment at Mr. Elton’s proposal towards herself, rather than Harriet is rich in dramatic irony as Emma expects Elton to ignore class while she is in disgust of the idea that a “lower-classed” man like Mr. Elton would ask for her hand in marriage. Through this Austen depicts the contradictions that her society has to class and marriage. However, although she is somewhat critical of this social order, the story eventuates in the marriage of characters of...