Amy Heckerling successfully uses many devices and techniques to transform the 18th century text EMMA by Jane Austen into “Clueless”, the contemporary flim about teenage life and pop-culture in America. However, a reading of Austen’s Emma allows for a whole new understanding of Heckerling’s Clueless. Not only are the many types of humour transformed, but also the main characters and the themes such as “Money and Status”, “Growth and Self Knowledge” and “Truth and Error”. The use of these similarities clearly show responder that “Clueless” is the modern day reflection of Jane Austen’s “Emma”.

Parallels in Characters

Upon viewing Heckerling’s Clueless, the responders are presented with some very distinct similarities with the characters of Austen’s Emma. Not only are some of the names alike, but also the character’s personalities and the relationships that are formed between the characters.

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Themes in Emma and Clueless

Upon the transformation of the texts, Heckerling has cleverly recreated the themes that were presented in Emma so that they will appeal to a modern teenage audience.

Money and Status

One of the themes that show distinct similarities with the 18th century text is “Money and Status”. Like Emma, the society presented in Clueless us very much “money-minded”. In Austen’s Emma, people were either married to gain wealth and status, or they would marry someone who belongs to the same or higher social class. Similarly, Heckerling’s Clueless is also set in a society or culture that is controlled and dominated by people with money and those who belong to a high social class. Emma prevents Harriet from marrying Mr Martin because he is not wealthy enough and belongs to a lower class. She instead tries to set up Harriet with Mr Elton, who is fairly wealthy. Heckerling recreates this through Cher, who stops Tai from seeing Travis because he is a low class “loadie”. The precise recreation of this theme allows readers to better understand Austen’s Emma.

Growth and Self Knowledge

Heckerling has also recreated the theme of “growth and self knowledge” during her transformation of Austen’s Emma. Initially, Emma is portrayed as a young, beautiful, high socialite who would see nothing wrong with the things that she did. Emma’s reaction to Mr Knightley after he disputed the way she treated Miss Bates, illustrates her shallowness. She had “never felt so agitated, mortified, grieved at any circumstances in her life”. Cher, like Emma would find nothing wrong with her matchmaking and thought she was bringing happiness to others. Eventually, both Emma and Cher learn to discriminate correctly between material, social and moral values when they realise that they had no right to play with other peoples feelings and emotions. Accurately recreating the theme “growth and self knowledge” in Clueless, allows for a better understanding of Emma.

Truth and Error


*Emma has always regarded Mr Knightley as an older brother, this affection later becomes love. Same as Cher and Josh from Clueless

*Robert Martin is a decent person and his and Harriet’s affections are mutual. Travis and Tai have the same affections. Both pairs join up in the end, proving that true love prevails even after the interruptions from Emma/Cher.


*Emma is spoilt because she is always allowed to have her way. This makes Emma snobbish and conceited. Same with Cher. Cher is also spoilt with luxuries such as a car and all the clothes she wants.

*Emma believes all of Mr Elton’s attention is directed to Harriet. Cher believed all of Elton’s affections were directed at Harriet

*Frank flirting with Emma without any intentions of true affections. Christian seemed to be flirting with Cher, but really he was gay and had no affections for her whatsoever.

*Emma tries to elevate Harriet to her social level. Cher tries to elevate Tai to a higher level.

Humour in Emma and Clueless


* Amy Heckerling effectively uses Irony to transform Emma into a humorous movie about teenage life in modern day Beverly Hills

* In Emma, used for satiric and comic relief and illustrates foolishness and misguided assumptions

* Emma & Elton. Cher & Elton & Tai the equivalent of Harriet. “TAI?! Why would I like Tai? do you know who my father is?”

* Irony that Emma is wrong even though she thinks she is so right. Emma misinterprets Mr Elton when he says “whatever you say is right and therefore I suppose and believe might be so…”. Emma believes he is talking about his love for Harriet when he really is in love with Emma.


* Another linguistic device Amy Heckerling uses to create humour to transform Jane Austen’s Emma is through the use of satire.

*Amy Heckerling achieves this transformation through the satirical intertextualities between the two texts.

* Emma’s society depicted by class and wealth

* Clueless is a clever satire of American Teen pop-culture. Social Classes

* Cher tells driving instructor she doesn’t need to learn to park cause “everywhere you go has valet”

* ignorant, dim-witted high class ppl. Heck transforms, Austen’s society into one ppl can relate to.


* The next device Heckerling used to create humour was through “comedy of errors”. Jane Austen uses the errors of characters to produce humour. The humour is produced when the reader is aware of the error but the character in the novel is not.

* Frank Churchill using Emma to cover-up his affair with Jane.

* Reproduced error in clueless through Christian & Cher. Cher finally realises her mistakes through Murray when he describes Christian as “a disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy. Know what I’m saying?, his gay!”


* The use of characters in Clueless to create humour was an effective technique used by Amy Heckerling to transform Emma, into a contemporary movie.

* Mr Knightley’s comment when Emma was drawing Harriet, that he is worried Harriet would catch a cold is considered funny.

* Amy Heckerling creates humour by introducing many humorous characters to assists with her transformation of Emma

* Cher’s whimpering and persuasions and Murray’s classic representation of the American Hip-Hop Teen Culture, with phrases such as “I’m just keeping it real” and “Yo. Woman”

*The use of these humorous characters allow Amy Heckerling to recreate the humour in Emma, but also create a film that is entertaining and funny for modern audiences.


* The Final linguistic used by Heckerling to create humour to transform Emma, was the use of Dialogue. The Dialogue Jane Austen created in Emma was not used for humour.

* Amy Heckerling used dialogue in her modern representation of Emma, as a form of humour. She achieves this mainly through the dialogue of Cher and Tai who’s language is full of one-liners and repartee. One liners such as “As IF”, “whatever”, “no shit” and the repartee “Would you say I’m selfish?” “No, not to your face”. These portray the humour that is used by the “typical” teenage American high school students.

*Put downs such as: Cher “I want to do something for humanity”, followed by “How about sterilization” by Josh.

* The humour used by Heckerling in Clueless, is common to many teenagers that live in America, who are predominately her main audience.


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