Lit Notes- Emma by Carolyn Cole

The second chapter of this segment will focus on the short story “Emma”, by Carolyn Cole, also from the anthology ” A World of Prose For CSEC”.

Characters

  • Emma York, the titular “Emma”, is the mother of Dory York and is married to Jack York.  Is in denial of her husband’s affair.  She plays an immense role in Dory’s upbringing.
  • Jack York, husband of Emma and father of Dory.  Is mostly absent in Dory’s life and is unfaithful to his wife.
  • Dorian (Dory)  York, the young daughter of Jack and Emma.  Loves her mother very much and seeks to emulate her in everything.  Is best friends with Maria Robinson.
  • Maria Robinson is Dory’s best friend.  Their bond is almost like that of siblings.  Envies Dory because Emma is her mother, and is a stark contrast to Mrs Robinson, her own mother.
  • Mrs Robinson is as cantankerous and vile as Emma is sweet and kind.  Is separated from her husband, and does not get along with her daughter Maria.  Is also envious of Emma and her marriage, as such, she tries to sow discord by hinting at Mr York’s infidelity.
  • The Lady at the train station is unnamed except for this title.  She is Mr York’s mistress and it seems that all the characters know this except Emma, who is either unaware or in denial.

Setting

The story is set in America, and the main events take place in the York household and at the train station.

Point of view

The story is told from the first person perspective of Dorian (Dory), a little girl. This point of view helps the reader to have a more suspenseful experience while reading, as they learn of events at the same time as the persona. Being a child, the persona does not know much of the adult world, and this contributes to the overall suspense.

Themes

One of the most prominent themes in the story is family relationships. Two major family relationships exist in the book; the relationship between Jack, Emma and Dorian (the Yorks) and the relationship between Mrs Robinson and Maria (the Robinsons). The York family has a rather dysfunctional relationship, in that Jack is very distant from Dory, as he is always at work, and rarely spends time with his child. Mr York also seems to be having an extramarital affair with the “lady at the train station”, which is painfully obvious to everyone but Emma, who seems to be in denial. On the other hand, Emma plays a major role in Dory’s upbringing and is an ever present figure in her life. This is seen in Dory and Maria’s playtime when the girls seek to emulate Emma in their skits. It is clear that a very strong mother-daughter bond exists between Emma and Dory. In stark contrast however, is the bond between Maria and Mrs Robinson. They clearly have a very bad mother-daughter bond, which can be seen in Mrs Robinson saying that “Maria would pack up and leave with you in a second” to Emma. It seems that Mrs Robinson resents Maria, because she makes reference to wanting to “send Maria to boarding school in a heartbeat.” Maria senses this resentment and as such wishes to be more like Emma, which was seen in the fight between her and Dory over who got to portray Emma in one of their skits.

Another major theme in Emma is deception. Deception is leading someone to believe something that you know is not true. Deception exists between Mr York and Emma and within Emma herself. Mr York deceives Emma into thinking that she is the “only woman in his life”, when the other characters, even the children know that he is having an affair with the lady in the train station. This is deception because Jack leads Emma to believe that he loves her and only her, when he obviously loves another woman. Emma also deceives herself about the affair, because it seems she cannot deal with the pain of reality. Even though all her senses tell her that her husband is unfaithful, she refuses to accept it and makes herself believe that everything is fine. This is deception because Emma makes herself believe that her husband is faithful, when in reality, he is not.

Techniques

Many literary techniques are used in Emma. One of these is symbolism. The symbolism of having the ‘little joker’ in a game of cards is well presented in the story. In a card game, the person with the little joker is at a disadvantage. Dory knows about the lady in the train station and tells Maria that she wants to tell Emma, comparing the situation to playing a game and telling Emma she has the little joker, so that she will not be at a disadvantage. Maria advises her not to do so, as she says it would be unfair. This symbolism translates to Emma’s being either unaware or in denial about her husbands infidelity; the figurative ‘little Joker’ in the game of life. In the resolution of the plot, Emma gives Dory and Maria a pack of cards shortly before she is hit by a car and killed after finding out about her husband’s affair. In her shock, Dory tries to retrieve the cards which were scattered on the impact of the collision and finds all but one, the little joker which was right beside Emma’s hand, i.e. she had been holding the little joker and so she lost the game (died).

Another technique used in Emma is foreshadowing. The overall mood of the story starts out bright and innocent, but the tones seem to get darker and more urgent as the story progresses. The importance of the lady at the train station’s role in the culmination of the plot becomes more evident through repetition of her name throughout the story. Also, the way in which she is mentioned is usually in a tone of derision or disapproval. The children seem to be aware that she is a detrimental force in the relationship between Mr and Mrs York and as such do not hold her in high regard. The frequent repetition of her presence adds to the foreshadowing that she will be the cause of something very bad at the end of the book.

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30 thoughts on “Lit Notes- Emma by Carolyn Cole

    • hi Kenice,
      i wouldn’t say that the setting has much influence on the characters of emma, because the behaviours of the characters do not necessarily change based on their locations. for example, dory and maria are childlike and innocent even outside of the house. if anything the only example i would use would be the Emma seems to be more insecure/ impulsive outside of her house, seen when she seems uncomfortable because of Mrs Robinson’s snide comments and runs into the street upon discovery of her husband’s infidelity. you could also use Mr York as a semi- example because he seems to hold more affection for the lady at the train station than his own wife and child. these are a couple examples but they may not be the strongest so if you don’t feel as if you can argue these well don’t attempt a question that requires this in the exam. good luck, i hope this helped.

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    • Oh OK I assume you mean Dory’s child-like language. In that case it would serve to add authenticity to the child’s narrative as well as enhance suspense BC the audience is just as unsure as Dory

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    • Grandfather: a positive male role model for Dory
      He is caring and involved whereas jack is distant and uninvolved in Dory’s life. The grandfather also loves Emma but Jack’s love of her is questionable

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  1. Although the story of Emma is easy I was able to see the loose ends i need to tighten and how exactly to answer my question in essays form thank u so very much for your help it is very much appreciated

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    • OK so first make sure you understand what the question is asking you or else you won’t be able to answer coherently. Next it’s always a good idea to make a rough plan with all the techniques and themes. Also remember that most questions dealing with short stories are comparative essays so make sure you know at least three that have similar themes, you only need two for the essay but this way you have a back up. Also make sure your answers are balanced so don’t spend more than half the essay on one book and neglect the other. Finally, make sure you give yourself enough time to adequately cover everything in both books. If you follow these steps I think you’ll be more confident in your essays. All the best!

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    • She is taking dory and maria to rollerskate at the train station and sees her husband with the lady at the train station. In shock, she runs into the road into the path of a vehicle. She is hit and killed instantly

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