The Comparative Study of Texts and Context module in HSC English is an in depth yet interesting one. Emma and Clueless is a very commonly used pair of texts, and this is why we decided to help those who may be struggling with the module or just need some extra pointers on the topic. Let’s start with the main themes in both texts:
- Social Status
Comparing the two contexts in terms of these themes is displayed from the essay excerpts below:
Setting and context
Los Angeles, where Clueless is set, is heralded as a great centre of postmodernism, where fashion obsession and consumerism reach a pinnacle even in a postmodern country. Emma’s conception of Highbury as “the world” and the sixteen miles to London an incomprehensible distance reveals a rural parochialism, despite her privilege. In transformation, Cher’s habitat is global, due to the spread of technology, yet still confined and impotent. Dionne and Murray can’t find a party in the Valley, which adjoins Beverly Hills, and Dionne cannot navigate the freeway. Cher doesn’t know the difference between El Salvador and Mexico, thinks Bosnia is in the Middle East and Kuwait in the Valley. Emma’s narrow experience of the world is a reflection of social stereotypes, where Cher’s mirrors a widespread political apathy and individual unconcern, despite extensive and easily obtainable information via the new technologies- television, the Internet and general electronics.
Female stereotypes and confinement
Emma, despite her financial independence, is restricted twofold: by the demands of her invalid father, and by the restrictions on acceptable activities for a gentlewoman. Cher is confined to the vacuousness and similar lack of occupation of the twentieth century blonde. Hence, both texts are concerned with female stereotypes in separate contexts. The approach of both is the female Bildungsroman, wherein the heroine quests for maturity or further knowledge. The fruition of both heroines’ journeys is discovered in submission to the superiority of the male, establishing both texts as ultimately conservative- a conservatism that is at least partially authorial in institution. In the conservative strain, Cher remains a naïve virgin and Dionne threatens to call Murray’s mother as a reprimand. The final coupling is segregated according to race, class and fiscal elements; similarly in Emma. Heckerling defends the older, less popular virtues of social liability, tolerance and fidelity. Josh’s assertion that “in some parts of the universe…it’s considered cool to know what’s going on in the world” is indicative of an attempt to blend the established ‘cool’ with actual moral fundamentals.
The conservative mode of Austen and Heckerling is not exclusive. Both Emma and Cher exert a certain expression of individual will that is socially accepted, though not socially governed. They are constructs of their societies, but strive for a compromise between the expectations of their surroundings and their own desires. Emma achieves a measure of freedom and independence in marriage. In union with George Knightley, Emma will retain her social standing and wealth, and be in a position to fulfil her social responsibility and exercise her position in the Highbury community. Emma’s triumph is slightly amplified by Knightley’s decision to move in with the Woodhouses: a small concession to a quietly emerging feminist movement, in an otherwise paternal, hegemonic text. Cher’s triumph of individuality lies in the general social acceptance of herself, without seeking conformation. Her individuality is not compromised by her relationship with Josh.