Speech on Emma, Critical Study of Texts

In her 1995 postmodern “teen pic” film Clueless (1995) Amy Heckerling recontextualizes Jane Austen’s prose novel Emma (1816). This is achieved through transforming the C19th values of Austen’s time as relevant C20th values that reflect a late 1990s context. The similarities comment on the unchanging nature and universality of certain values, whilst contrasting values highlight societal changes. Austen’s strict parochial world of Highbury is transformed into the “hip” permissive world of Beverly Hills.

The first apparent contrast between Clueless and Emma is the worlds in which the characters live. Heckerling ironically reflects the insularity of Highbury through Beverly Hills, a world of celebrity culture that is like an “island” of ignorant tranquility in the heart of a city plagued by conflicts between cultures, races and economic classes. These microcosmic worlds allow both composers to focus on specific characters, their interactions and follies. Heckerling presents viewers with a set that often looks contrived as if it was the background of a commercial. During the introduction of Clueless the moving camera shots and blurred backgrounds make Cher’s life look like a commercial or MTV music video, reflecting the commercial and consumer values of C20th American youth.

A key part of Emma and Clueless are the class distinctions and social hierarchies that define their worlds. In Emma, social status affected one’s lifestyle and opinion of others. Austen uses omniscient narration to show Emma’s social standing “Highbury … afforded her no equals”. This is an allusion to the C19th value of strict social hierarchy and the boundaries of perceived classes. Austen satirizes Emma’s snobbery when she dissuades Harriet from a match with Robert Martin, announcing “The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with which I can have nothing to do”. And despite the Coles being “friendly, liberal and unpretending”, these characteristics of genuine worth aren’t valued by...