Furthermore, both Emma and Harriet appear to be in mutual understanding of the power imbalance in their friendship which Mr Knightley describes as a ‘delightful inferiority’. Neither character, however, accurately acknowledges the intellectual disparities between them, with the third person narrative voice informing the reader that Emma ‘was not struck by anything remarkably clever in Miss Smith’s conversation’.
Emma’s ignorance appears at the hands of her having too much of her own way ‘with very little to distress or vex her’, so consequently never having had to pay for her bad judgments or face any difficulties navigating through life. This privilege that has been afforded to her is brought about by her wealth and subsequently, her high status in society. The mistakes that she makes throughout the novel are a result of her lack of realisation that money plays a large factor in either aiding or restricting the behaviour of those around her. Emma adopts an impressionable young Harriet, who is infatuated by Emma’s special treatment, and sculpts her into someone more like herself.
In doing so, Emma manages to convince herself that Harriet’s unknown parentage is indisputably noble. Unfortunately, Emma is awfully arrogant and shallow, and is so determined and persuaded by the accuracy of her own outlook that she is prepared to deny Harriet of a chance at happiness through her marriage to Mr Robert Martin, by raising her expectations to that of a high standard than she is familiar with. In doing so however, Harriet’s adamant, yet delayed, confession of love for Mr Robert Martin causes Emma to recognise her love for Mr Knightley. Harriet, on the other hand, has not been afforded the luxury of being surrounded by yes-men in the form of maids and servants and therefore is a more multi-dimensional character.
Thus, while Emma’s character, although slowly, develops throughout the novel, Harriet remains set in her modest ways, despite almost being corrupted by Emma, and subsequently remains in love with Mr Robert Martin. Harriet’s change in character can be seen as not in her perception of society, but rather in perception of herself and it is her financial insecurity which helps her to become wise. The theme of money, in this instance, acts as a plot device to aid women in their journey of self-discovery. Ultimately, it is Harriet’s emotional intelligence, and not the wealthy Emma’s ignorance, that leads the characters into the arms of their respective love interests.