Friday, March 23, 2012

transformation of Emma into clueless

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When Amy Heckerling transformed Jane Austen’s novel Emma into the film Clueless, she did not devalue the novel, but instead added value to it because she was able to update the plot without drastically changing many of the ideas and features. This then allowed readers to compare and better understand many of the aspects of the novel. By changing the form of the story, Heckerling is also able to allow better understanding of the original text, as many people in today’s society are more visually literate.

Because Emma is set in 1th century England, ideas and values automatically change when the story is transformed to a more modern perspective. Just because Heckerling did this, does not mean that the original story loses value. In fact, Emma gains even more value then it did previously because viewers of the film are able to later read the original novel and compare such things as ideas and values and how they are appropriate to the time in which the version was created.

When Heckerling transformed Emma into the modern day film Clueless, many ideas and values present in the story could remain the same, but also few had to be slightly altered in order to slot into modern day context. One such idea was that of marriage. Marriage was such a large focus point in Emma because, in the time in which it was set, it was one of the main ways of raising one’s social status. If you weren’t particularly wealthy in the 1th century, you tried to marry a person above your own social status in the hope that this in turn would gain you more respect within the community. Because of this, it was very rare to marry for love because the appropriateness of the partner was judged on his manner and position in society, not on whether he had a good heart and treated you well.

Marriage is not regarded as a very important issue in today’s society as many people are getting married at a much older age. The idea of marriage had to be changed in Clueless in order for the film to be appropriate for the modern day audience. The idea of marriage was not completely left out but instead downgraded to the common concept of dating. In the film, dating was used in the same way as marriage was used in Emma. By dating, it was hoped by the characters that their status within the school and their social circle was raised. Because Emma and Cher both love to match make, whether it be for pure entertainment or to help out a friend in need aspects can be compared and many similarities found between the ideas of marriage and dating. Emma match made for entertainment value so she was extremely eager to match her new friend, Harriet, with the town vicar Mr Elton. Even though Harriet has already received a perfectly good proposal from a farmer, named Mr Martin, who has honest and heart-felt feelings for Harriet, Emma convinces Harriet to reject the proposal because he is ‘coarse’ and ‘unpolished’ and most importantly ‘not suitable’ for her.

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This scene is recreated in Clueless using the idea of dating instead of marriage. Tai is asked to a valley party by Travis, who a warm and friendly ‘loady’, but because of his status in the school Cher makes Tai reject the offer because in Cher believes ‘no respectable girl actually dates them’, the them being loadies. Cher immediately sets Tai’s sights on a rich snob called Elton who she believes will make her more popular than she could imagine and that if she ‘strikes while the iron is hot’ she could have him.

By comparing these two scenes, which emphasise very similar ideas, viewers are able to understand how slightly these ideas have changed over time. Therefore, the novel Emma has not lost value but had in fact gained value because it can be used as a comparison to today’s society so that modern responders are able to gain insight into what 1th century society thought were important ideas and values.


Austen’s novel Emma cannot only be valued for its entertaining qualities but also for the ability to give historical and sociological information. Because Austen wrote in the 1th century about that era, the modern day readers are able to gain a historical insight into how people interacted in the era, simply by observing how Austen’s characters interact with one another and also through the use of language. It becomes obvious through the comparison of texts that both productions use very different forms of language. While Clueless contains many slang and modern terms such as ‘cruising the crimson wave’ and ‘hymenally challenged’, Austen’s novel contains formal and other forms of language that are appropriate to that era and the fairly educated audience she is targeting. For example, when Emma is in the carriage with Mr Elton and he professes his love for her, Austin uses the term ‘made passionate love’ to describe the scene. In modern society this phrase would be interpreted as meaning that the two characters actually had sex in the carriage, when all Mr Elton really did was tell Emma that he loved her. Because of this interpretation of the phrase, Heckerling decided to show Elton kiss Cher in the car, without her permission, in order for the responder to be as appalled by the incident as readers in the 1th century would have been when reading Emma. The use of changing this scene illustrates a similar assault to the main character and helps to prove that Emma still has value as a novel because it has relevance to today’s audience and also provides a comparison as to how interaction between people has changed over the passing years.

In Austen’s era, ladies and gentlemen often used separate rooms in which to talk to each other. It was very rare for men and women to hold conversation with one another in the same room unless at a formal affair such as a ball. Because of this simple historical fact much of the dialogue in Emma is between females, as Austen made the choice to write about what she knew and had experienced.

This feature is completely different to that in Clueless as all the characters are seen talking to one another on a casual basis. When they interact, they aren’t always respectful in their manner and content of what they say. An example of this occurs when Murray is trying to explain to Cher that Christian is a homosexual. Instead of simply stating this fact, he instead describes Christian as a ‘disco-dancing...Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy!’. This not only shows the nature of interaction between friends but also shows that friends are not always respectful of one another.

In this sense, Emma is still valuable to today’s society because it provides a vast contrast as to the way of living and interaction of people in different eras. By comparing the two texts, historical and sociological value can be drawn.

Because both composers used different medium to present their story, comparison of such things as scenes can be made which further reinforce the value of Emma. Because Clueless is a film production, heckerling was able to take advantage of modern technologies to further the effect of the film. When Austen wrote Emma, she had to rely on her ability to write and describe scenes, emotions and characters effectively for the readers benefit. The lengthy descriptions in Emma often lose the modern audience as they are unable to pick up on many of the humorous events and subtleties within the novel because many people today’s society are less literate than people in the 1th century.

By making Clueless a film, Heckerling was able to transform many scenes into terms that people would be able to understand so they could pick up jokes and insults and then see how Austen wrote about the same events in her novel. This then allows modern and more visually literate responders to become aware of the insults in the novel and better understand Austen’s writing because they can compare how both composers decided to present certain scenes in order to show the necessary information needed to make the story interesting and enjoyable. By having Clueless a film instead of another novel, it encourages both the young and old to read Austen’s Emma so this in turn gives Emma value in the 0th century.

An example of a scene that was changed in order to allow better understanding of the situation is when Emma insults Miss Bates at the Boxhill picnic.

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