Clueless and Jane Austen

The rom-com genius Jane Austen wrote Emma, where she created a swoony story with love triangles while also calling out her protagonist for her sheltered and blinkered view of the world.

Amy Heckerling, writer-director of Clueless, took inspiration from Austen and created a beloved movie even after 25 years. While the film is famous for its ’90s aesthetic, girlish luxuries, endless fashion ensembles, and nice cars, Clueless still is in a tricky place.

Heckerling, like Auestn, uses irony to show what it looks like when a self-involved person with every advantage realizes she needs to stop thinking she’s right about everything and is entitled to tell others how to live.

Clueless is a romantic comedy, but it is also a story about trying to be a better person, specifically about a privileged young white woman trying to be a better person.

In the beginning, Cher insists she lives a “way normal life for a teenage girl,” but she says this while using a computer to pick out her clothes in an uncommonly large closet. From the very first moments of Clueless, it is evident that Cher’s view of the world is entirely at odds with what it is. Much of the humor in the movie comes from that disconnect.

What’s both problematic and amusing about Cher is her ingrained belief that whatever she thinks, says, or does is correct, which is the very definition of white privilege. She has never faced any actual consequences for her actions and therefore has never been challenged.

The love interest, Josh, gives Cher a different perspective on the world. He constantly calls her out on “rich white girl nonsense” and her lack of curiosity about what’s happening beyond Beverly Hills. Her growing respect and love for him make her rethink her previous ideas.

By the end of the movie, there’s no reason to believe that Cher has changed so much that she stopped her previous activities altogether, but she has taken some positive steps. And even a positive step in a teen comedy can leave a significant impression on its audience, especially those who saw it at a young age.

Heckerling took inspiration from Jane Austen’s Emma from 1815 to create a story still relevant in 1995. Clueless critiques the lack of perspective that often goes with being white and wealthy. In its satirical moments, Clueless acknowledges Cher’s obliviousness while still forcing her to start figuring out how to hold herself to a higher standard.

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