At first glance Cher, the central character of this film, seems to be the embodiment of a late twentieth-century "Valley Girl," complete with a computer-coded, accessorized wardrobe and a Jeep. She is the center of the stylish set at Beverly Hills High School. She has an indulgent father, a wealthy attorney, who allows her to purchase whatever she desires from the local shopping malls. On closer examination, it becomes apparent that Cher is really an old-fashioned girl. She refuses to date high school boys and she is saving herself for Luke Perry. She has more in common with a young woman of the late eighteenth-century, such as the title character of Jane Austen's novel, Emma, than it might seem at first.

As a young woman with a good deal of time on her hands, she amuses herself by encouraging romance among the people around her, her teachers and friends, just as Emma tries to exert control over her world by matchmaking. Cher's father worries that she does not have a direction in life. Cher takes an interest in a new, socially awkward, student in her school, Tai, and guides her transformation and integration into her clique. In the original novel Emma takes the young woman, Harriet, under her wing and introduces her to smart society.

Both Cher and Emma are at the apex of their respective social spheres. Cher is readily acknowledged as the most popular and stylish student at Beverly Hills High School. Emma is the daughter of the most prominent local gentry family. Emma is respected by her peers, and the nearby townsfolk show her deference. Both of these young women are the respective mistresses of their homes because their fathers were widowed when each of these ladies was very young. Both of these young women at the beginning of the tale do not believe that they need a relationship with a man to find fulfillment in their lives. Both of them discover the transformative power of love. After acknowledging their respective desire for a man who is practically a member of the family, they are inspired to help other people.

Both of these women are very self-sufficient, never imagining that the romantic relationship they are truly seeking is in fact right in front of them. This experience gives each of them new insight into matters of the heart where they had previously prided themselves on their expertise. This newfound love brings harmony to their respective spheres of influence, stabilizing not only their own lives, but those of the people around them.

Sydney Van Nort
Archivist, Library

Clueless. Dir. Amy Heckerling. Perf. Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, and Paul Rudd. DVD. Paramount Pictures, 1993.

Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne (Stacey Dash) explain to Tai (Brittany Murphy) the social hierarchy of Beverly Hills High School.

She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintances, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life, her leisure, and powers.

Jane Austen. "Emma." The Complete Novels of Jane Austen. New York: The Modern Library, 1933. 775.

Cher (Alicia Silverstone) realizes that she is in love with her step-brother, Josh (Paul Rudd).

Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes. She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling, had been her conduct! What blindness, what madness had led her on! It struck her with dreadful force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world. Some portion of respect for herself, however, in spite of all these demerits, some concern for her own appearance, and a strong sense of justice by Harriet (there would be no need of compassion to the girl who believed herself loved by Mr. Knightly-but justice required that she should not be made unhappy by any coldness now), gave Emma the resolution to sit and endure further with calmless, with even apparent kindness.

Jane Austen. "Emma." The Complete Novels of Jane Austen. New York: The Modern Library, 1933. 1013.

Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Josh (Paul Rudd) at the wedding of Miss Toby Geist (Twink Caplan) and Mr. Wendell Hall (Wallace Shawn), two teachers at Beverly Hills High School.

The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. "Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it!" But, in spite of all these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

Jane Austen. "Emma." The Complete Novels of Jane Austen. New York: The Modern Library, 1933. 1060.


Ferris, Suzanne. "Emma Becomes Clueless." Jane Austen in Hollywood. Eds. Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998. 122-129.

Mazmanian, Melissa. "Reviving Emma in a Clueless World: The Current Attraction to a Classic Structure." Persuasions, Occasional Papers, No. 3 (1999).

Parrill, Sue. "Metaphors of Control: Physicality in Emma and Clueless." Persuasions, 20.1 (1999).

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