Emma Woodhouse: Emma is the title character of the book and in the beginning is mainly concerned with matchmaking. She considers it her duty to find a wife for Mr. Elton and a husband for Harriet, neither of which she accomplishes. Towards the end of the book she realizes her mistakes and goes through some self-examination to realize her blunders. It is only when she understands that she has been meddling in other people’s affairs when she does not even understand her own feelings, that she is able to find her true love and marry Mr. Knightley.
Mr. Knightley: Mr. Knightley is a neighbor of the Woodhouses and visits them almost every day. He is about thirty-eight and is the master of Donwell. For as long as Emma can remember, Mr. Knightley has been trying to improve her by encouraging her to read, to not be so frivolous and to improve her manners with others. In the end Emma realizes that she is in love with Mr. Knightley and accepts when he asks her to marry him. He is quite understanding of all of the peculiarities of Mr. Woodhouse, and suggests that he leave Donwell to live at Hartfield for his sake.
Mr. Woodhouse: Mr. Woodhouse is Emma’s father and has many eccentricities. He does not like change of any sort, especially marriages, and he feels pity for any woman who marries, as it means a change for her. He is a comic character in the novel because of his peculiar worries about the health of others. He lectures people about where to vacation, not leaving their houses at night and eating gruel instead of the prepared meals.
Harriet Smith: Harriet lives at the boarding school and does not know who her parents are. Emma thinks that she must be the daughter of a gentleman and takes her under her care to introduce her around. Emma discourages her from marrying Mr. Martin and makes her look to more superior men for a husband. This backfires on Emma when Harriet looks to Mr. Knightley, and Emma realizes that she herself is in love with him. Harriet cannot make up her own mind and falls in love with one man after another, finally marrying Mr. Martin. In the end it turns out that she is the daughter of a tradesman after all.
Jane Fairfax: Jane is the niece of Miss Bates but has been raised by the Campbells, as they could support her better. They cannot continue supporting her though, and she is soon to be a governess. Emma thinks her indifferent, but in the end it turns out that she is just trying to hide her feelings for Mr. Churchill, as they have been secretly engaged since before either of them came to Highbury.
Mrs. and Mr. Weston: Mrs. Weston was Miss Taylor and Emma’s governess before she married Mr. Weston. She is Emma’s closest friend. Mr. Weston is an obliging man and is the father of Frank Churchill (a son from his first marriage). He gave up his son to his wife’s brother and sister-in-law, the Churchills because they had more means with which to support him.
Frank Churchill: Frank Churchill is the son of Mr. Weston, but has been raised by the Churchills, his aunt and uncle. Mrs. Churchill keeps him close to her so that he cannot visit his father frequently, but he finally does come to Highbury. Many admire him because he knows how to please, but Mr. Knightley finds him selfish. He pretends to be an admirer of Emma, but in the end (after Mrs. Churchill’s death) it turns out that he and Jane have been engaged for months.
Miss Bates: Miss Bates is the talkative neighbor of the Woodhouses. Along with Mr. Woodhouse, she is one of the comic characters in the novel, as she is rather silly and switches from one subject to another quickly. She is quite good-natured though, and is the aunt of Jane.
Mr. Elton: Mr. Elton is the vicar of Highbury, and in the beginning, Emma thinks it her duty to find him a husband. She soon thinks that Harriet would be best, and is surprised when Mr. Elton proposes to her instead. She refuses him and he leaves town for a few weeks, only to come back engaged to another woman. He tells Emma that he would never consider marrying a woman like Harriet, and in the end it is seen how unpardonable he is to Harriet when he snubs her at the dance.
Mrs. Elton: Mrs. Elton is the wife that Mr. Elton brings to Highbury. She is self-centered and tries to become quite familiar with everyone, calling Jane “Jane” and Mr. Knightley “Knightley.” She thinks it is her job to help everyone, and she finds a governess situation for Jane even when Jane repeatedly asks her not to. She thinks that she is above everyone, and scoffs at Emma and Mr. Knightley’s wedding ceremony.
Mr. Martin: Mr. Martin and his family rent a farm from Mr. Knightley. Mr. Knightley thinks very highly of him and encourages him to ask Harriet to marry him, but Emma will not hear of Harriet marrying someone in so low a station. In the end Harriet does marry him though, and everyone thinks it is a good match.
John and Isabella Knightley: John Knightley is Mr. Knightley’s brother, and Isabella is Emma’s sister. They live in London but visit Highbury.