Mr. Knightley organizes his entire life around what is socially appropriate and bases all of his rapid judgments about other people on whether or not they conform to these ideals. He has a bad opinion of Frank Churchill before they even meet, because Frank has been rude in not attending his father’s wedding or in paying the new Mrs. Weston any attention (he says that Frank would have done so, if she had not been a “mere former governess”—implying a moral judgment against Frank for not treating his new stepmother as his equal). When Emma is rude to Miss Bates, Knightley reprimands her for not being socially appropriate, and remembering that others use her as guide post for how to treat the woman. He says that Emma should have compassion on her and treat her gently, because her situation has sunken into poverty and that likely will not change soon, but worsen as she gets older. He reminds Emma that she cannot rely on Mr. Elton to be a good match for Harriet, because whenever he is only around men, he talks about his ambitions to marry well and raise his station. Knightley condemns Elton’s rude behavior at the ball, because of his refusal to dance with Harriet to spurn her for having set her sights on him, and admits that Emma chose a better girl for him than he did himself (because also finds Mrs. Elton rude and inappropriate). He bases his decisions and opinions on what is sensible and has worked for generations; he tries to ground Emma’s lofty ambitions into what is realistic, to no avail. He helps the farmer write his proposal to Harriet and is angry at Emma for interfering and hurting both Roberts’ and Harriet’s their happiness. Respect for Emma’s love for her father and the old man’s eccentricities makes him permissive in choosing to move in with them, rather than transplant them to his new house. He points out how social hierarchies work to Emma, who ignores them in favor of her own ideas about “how things ought to work.” Things like social class and station, and how their society has to live and operate inside them. He also senses that Emma is wrong about pursuing Elton as a match for Harriet, based on a combination of what he knows of the man’s character and an intuition about her barking up the wrong tree. Knightley doesn’t question his own conclusions much, but he will change his mind and admit to it when he’s wrong.

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Knightley focuses on doing what is moral and appropriate to the situation. He is often angry at people for their inconsiderate behaviors and decisions, and forms harsh judgments about their inappropriate or inconsiderate behavior. He thinks Frank is stupid to have “wasted an entire day” going to London for a haircut (not realizing he went to London to buy a piano for Jane). When he sees Harriet snubbed at the ball, he takes steps to correct the situation—to comfort her and to show up Mr. Elton for his rudeness. He directly confronts Emma about her bad behavior at the picnic, reducing her to tears and repentance for her poor manners. He also tells her not to meddle as much, while meddling himself by trying to change her behavior. His 2 wing makes him generous and kind, but also assumes responsibility for taking action to help others when they need it. The farmer finds him an easy ally in his quest to propose to Harriet, Emma finds him forgiving, and Harriet finds in him a moral hero to admire.