Emma Woodhouse is a rich young lady who is of a high situation in her household being the mistress of Highbury from an early age. This is because her mother had died when she was very young and her older sister had married. Therefore, she is a woman of leisure whom can do as she pleases. Nevertheless, in the time in which she lived there, there was very little distraction to amuse people of this class. Therefore, other forms of entertainment were found; in Emma's case the solution was to find somebody to occupy herself with; in this instance, Harriet Smith.
We are given an idea of Harriet's importance in the book when we are first introduced to her character. This is because at this point Emma had just lost her governess, Miss Taylor, who was her friend, her educator and her confident, to marriage. Emma is left misplaced in the world not knowing what to do.
"It was Miss Taylor's loss that first brought grief . . . Emma first.
sat in mournful thought of any continuance . . . her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer the long evening.".
Therefore Emma is on the search for somebody to occupy her time by filling Miss Taylor's place. Harriet is obviously a perfect candidate for this role because she is below Emma in class, she is naive, she has a very sweet and endearing personality; all of these factors and more mean that Emma has the upper hand in the relationship which is where she likes to be. She likes to dominate because this means that she can control the way in which her acquaintance acts.
We can see that Emma enjoys mothering and guiding Harriet, which is easy in this case because of the lack of parental guidance that Harriet has had in her life. This is because Harriet was given to Mrs Goddard's school, a school of a fairly good reputation, at a young age by her parents. Emma finds this quite an enchanting story because of the mystery in Harriet's background.