Amy Heckerling’s post-modern film, “Clueless,” appropriates the timeless ideas and values presented in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, appealing to contemporary audiences. Through the appropriation, Heckerling juxtaposes the societies, drawing attention to the differences and at the same time, criticising her own society. Heckerling successfully transforms the universal values of marriage, social hierarchy and gender roles, modifying them to suit a modern audience. Heckerling adapts the nineteenth century contextual setting of, “Emma,” to appeal to contemporary audiences.
Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma’ is set in the village of Highbury, reflecting the slow-paced lifestyle of her time. The importance of status and wealth during the era is established through the description of Emma as, “handsome, clever and rich. ” “Clueless,” however, underscores the importance of consumerism and materialism, depicted through the opening montage. The fast camera movements and the soundtrack ‘Kids in America’ further emphasise the fast paced consumerist lifestyle of the 20th century.
Through the contextual transformation of ‘Emma’, Heckerling exemplifies the similarities between the two eras: the fundamental values do not change, regardless of the change in context. Marriage and relationships in Austen’s time has been altered to cater for modern perspectives on love. In, “Emma,” marriage was predominantly based on social and financial status. This is explored through Mr Elton’s desire to “only aggrandise himself” by either taking Emma or, if not, “try for Miss Somebody Else. Furthermore, it was considered unacceptable for a couple to marry outside of their social classes. Emma’s opposition to Harriet’s interest in Mr Knightley is spurred on by her belief that it would be unlikely for, “a man of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers. ” In addition, she believes that their relationship would be an, “elevation on her side,” and a, “debasement on his . ” This outlines the vast differences in social class between the pair and at the same time the rigidity of marriage between equal social classes.
Contrastingly, Heckerling modifies the concept of marriage to focus on idealistic romances of the 20th century, including notions of sexual freedom. Heckerling replaces marriage in, “Emma,” with casual romances and monogamous relationships; depicted through Cher’s voiceover: “Oh my gosh, I am majorly, totally, butt-crazily in love with Josh. ” Heckerling’s inclusion and acceptance of Christian’s homosexuality highlights the change in relationship values and encompasses the new transition of homosexuality that would not be tolerated in the 19th century.
Like Emma, Cher opposes Tai’s pursuit of Josh as they, “do not mesh well together,” due to Tai’s new found popularity and Josh’s reputation as the “school nerd”. Towards the end, Heckerling ironically adapts Emma’s claims that she will not marry, to a modern context where Cher declares “As if! I’m only sixteen, and this is California, not Kentucky”. Through her text ‘Clueless’, Heckerling transforms financial and status based relationships of the 19th century in Emma, into idealistic romances of the 20th century, reflecting the importance of love in the 20th century.
Within both, “Emma,” and, “Clueless,” social hierarchy plays a crucial role in setting boundaries and expectations. Austen’s, “Emma,” places emphasis on the hierarchical social structure based on birth and wealth. Austen portrays this through the characterisation of Emma Woodhouse, who has claims to a high social class through birthright. She has an advantageous position as she is the daughter of an indulgent father and mistress of his household. Emma’s prejudice against the lower class is conveyed through her description of Mr Robert Martin as, “precisely the order to people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do”.
Contrastingly, Austen presents Mr Knightley as the embodiment of an ideal upper-class gentleman, assuming the moral responsibilities inherent within their class. Mr Knightley demonstrates his social responsibility in regarding Mr Martin as a, “respectful, kind, gentleman farmer. ” As a member of Highbury, he displays, “Noblesse Oblige,” the duty of care to those less privileged. Heckerling’s ‘Clueless’ depicts similar prejudices against the lower class. Cher possesses the same sense of superiority through her wealth, appearance and other material possessions.
As Tai expresses her interests in Travis, both Cher and Dionne explain the school’s social structure. Heckerling’s appropriation of the different social classes in, “Emma,” into the cliques such as, “the Loadies” represents the vast differences in social class that still exist within the 20th century. Heckerling’s change of context transforms the older values of social responsibility into global awareness and charity. Josh epitomises the contemporary social responsibility, expressing his concerns by wearing Amnesty International pins, and taking an active interest in news.
Although Heckerling changes the setting, prejudices against the lower classes still exists. Like Emma, Cher has preconceived perceptions about the various groups in the school. Cher points out ‘the Loadies’, to which Travis belongs, as a group of drug users whom, “no respectable girl actually dates. ” As Emma rejects Mr Martin in favour of men of a similar social standing to her own such as Mr Elton, Cher dismisses Travis in favour of boys from her own social group.
Heckerling conveys the arrogance that Cher and Dionne possess as a result of their affluent lifestyle. ‘Emma’ portrays a rigid social structure, in which social mobility is severely restricted. Unlike Austen’s ‘Emma’, Tai is able to rise out of her social class through her association with Cher and Dionne. Though Heckerling portrays the differences between the societies, “Clueless,” ultimately depicts the idea that social hierarchy is still a dominant feature in the 20th century.
Heckerling transforms gender roles in her film ‘Clueless’ to centre on the freedom of women, catering for modern perspectives on gender roles. The role of women in the 19th century was severely limited. Social and economic status was dependant on father, husbands or brothers. Since most women yielded little political or financial power, marriage provided women with financial security and social acceptability. The implications of spinsterhood are portrayed through the characterisation of Miss Bates.
Her status as an unmarried woman is mocked by Emma at Box Hill, “Ah! Ma’am but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me – but you will be limited as to number – only three at once. ” Emma, however, is in a unique position as she “was heiress of thirty thousand pounds”, claiming that “it is poverty that makes celibacy contemptible. ” In, “Clueless,” the newfound social acceptance of women’s equality allows for women to express their sexual desires, underscored through Tai’s reference, “You know, I don’t care either way, just as long as his you-know-what isn’t crooked. The emancipation of women allowed for marriage fluidity, demonstrated by Mel’s divorces, whereas women in ‘Emma’ did not have the power or social standing to do so. Cher and her friends are able to seek love and happiness in their relationship without being dependent on marriage to provide status and security. Heckerling transforms the gender roles from ‘Emma’ to reflect the freedoms of women in the 20th century.
Through the transformation of Austen’s, “Emma,” into “Clueless,” Heckerling appropriates the ideas and values of the 19th century by incorporating the contemporary issues of the 20th century. Heckerling draws attention to the notion that though the texts are centuries apart, the values present in ‘Emma’ remain largely unchanged in the 20th century. The values of marriage, social hierarchy and gender roles remain timeless and the process of transformation has modernised the way in which the story is embodied, extending its appeal to a more contemporary audience.