clueless harriet smith

GMW Parallels to Emma by Jane Austen

Dear God, I must be crazy to attempt to parallel another Austen book to GMW after the butchering that happened to Sense and Sensibility. I’m an idealist and I choose to think the best of people and situations, so I’m gonna go ahead and do it because I think it’s a very good parallel to what’s going on with Ms. Riley Matthews.

Emma is the story of a wealthy young girl named Emma Woodhouse. She is the younger daughter of Mr. Woodhouse and fancies herself to be wise in the ways of the world and adept at reading people and forming matches. Her hypothesis is based on her successful matching of her former governess with Mr. Weston.

Emma’s “best friend” is a poor, fairly clueless girl named Harriet Smith. Emma is also close with Mr. George Knightley. George Knightley is her brother-in-law (her older sister Isabella is married to his brother John). George Knightley is always there for Emma and loves her very much, but he is always one for telling her when she has gone too far and when he is disappointed in her.

Other important characters are Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Jane is the ideal companion to Emma and is everything Emma ought to want to be. Emma is jealous of Jane but pretends her reason for disliking her is that Jane is cold. Frank Churchill is an attractive man that Emma believes herself to be falling in love with. He saves her when her carriage becomes stuck and their flirtations grow from there. Ultimately, it is revealed that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill are secretly engaged. Emma realizes she never loved Frank and that she actually is in love with George Knightley (who is also in love with her). It ends happily ever after with Emma realizing she still has a lot to learn.

Okay, that’s a very broad general overview. Now, the most important thing to know is that Emma repeatedly intervenes on Harriet’s behalf. Robert Martin, a farmer, proposes marriage to Harriet and Emma essentially tells Harriet to blow him off because she can do better. Emma’s heart is in the right place, but Harriet cares for Robert Martin and he actually is a very good match for her.

Okay, so how does this parallel Girl Meets World? Well, hopefully it’s become clear by now.

Riley is Emma. Riley’s scheme to get Katy and Shawn together works and comes to fruition the way Emma is able to make the match between her governess (Ms. Taylor) and Mr. Weston happen. I’m not saying that the Shawn/Katy match is what gives Riley reason to believe she is always right about everything that is happening with herself and her friends, but it certainly adds to Riley’s “my schemes work, I’m the new King, I can fix everyone” mentality.

The next easiest parallel to make is between Frank Churchill and Lucas. Like Frank, Lucas is not from the same locale all the other characters are from. He is new, exciting, attractive and a little mysterious. He very much seems to be this perfect catch, until it is revealed that he has a BIG secret (like Lucas has a secret). The difference is that Lucas’ secret is about something he did and Frank’s is about an engagement. Either way, Frank toys with Emma’s emotions. I’m not saying there isn’t some real affection between Emma and Frank but mostly, Emma is a diversion for Frank that he uses until he can announce his engagement to Jane. The BIG parallel between Frank/Emma and Lucas/Riley is that Emma genuinely believes she is in love with Frank until she realizes that her perceptions of what love is are all wrong and understands that she never had true romantic feelings for Frank.

Shortly afterwards, Emma realizes she is in love with George Knightley. Now, who would George (the voice of reason, the wise man, the friend who supports Emma through everything while being desperately in love with her, the man who is not afraid to tell Emma when she did something wrong, made a mistake, the man who tells Emma when he is disappointed in her, the man who shares many inside jokes and traditions with Emma) possibly be a parallel for? It’s Farkle. Obviously it’s Farkle. The main difference is that while George knows he’s in love with Emma, Farkle does not know he has romantic feelings for Riley. However, once Emma let’s go of her perception of love and the idealization she has for Frank Churchill, she realizes that love has been under her nose the whole time.

Maya is a little harder to place but I think she’s a combination of Harriet and Jane. Riley wants to be more like Maya, which works with Emma’s jealousy of Jane. Harriet lets Emma run her life and at least in this non-triangle arc, we see Riley making lots of decisions for Maya with Maya having little to no say in what happens.

Now, I’m not saying that the GMW writers decided to build a show around paralleling characters from a Jane Austen novel. That’s just absurd. However, these parallels do work well and I think they serve to point out the most crucial aspect of GMW that a lot of fans seem to be missing:

THIS SHOW IS A COMING OF AGE SHOW ABOUT RILEY. JUST AS EMMA MAKES GHASTLY MISTAKES AND ALMOST RUINS RELATIONSHIPS AND PEOPLE’S LIVES AND PLAYS FAST AND LOOSE WITH PEOPLE’S EMOTIONS AND FUTURES, RILEY MAKES SIMILAR MISTAKES.

There are several reasons why Riley keeps making these mistakes (most notably the Riley committee keeping Riley in her Rileytown box which drastically stunts her growth). Regardless of the reasons, Riley HAS to make these mistakes. That’s how she will grow and learn. The entire point of a coming of age story is the main character making mistake after mistake and bigger mistake after bigger mistake until she or he finally figures out what the heck life is and who the heck he or she is.

Riley (like Emma) will get there. Her journey has just begun. Don’t let Riley’s mistakes upset or anger you. They’re a necessary evil because they are precisely what will allow Riley to evolve. She will pay for her mistakes soon enough (“everything bad in the world is your fault” from Telltale Tot).

The parallels of the other characters are fun and may be intentional or may be coincidence, but the real take away should be that this novel is about Emma growing up and that means she needs to make mistakes and learn from them. Let Riley do the same. I promise she will be a better person because of it.

It would be GREAT if Harper moved to High School too OR If the HS English teacher wanted to teach Emma so Riley and her friends could all realize these lessons!