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Madame Bovary: Essay Q&A

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What more typically masculine traits does Emma exhibit during the course of the novel?
During the height of her relationship with Rodolphe, Emma begins to exhibit some outward signs of independence normally associated with men during the period. She is seen smoking cigarettes and wearing a tight-fitting man's vest, both of which were potentially scandalous behavior for a lady at the time. More importantly, however, her quest for independence during her affair with Leon leads her to take increasingly large risks. She is seen walking on his arm in Rouen and as her mania for desire increases her will begins to subsume his own. In a famous passage Flaubert describes Leon's feelings at the time: "He never disputed any of her ideas; he fell in with all her tastes: he was becoming her mistress, far more than she was his." This power over her lover and his submissiveness to her desire was the opposite of what was considered the typical gender roles at the time. Indeed, this role reversal was part of what the conservative government found reprehensible and worthy of prosecution in the novel.
What is free indirect discourse and how does it figure in the text?
In a letter to Louise Colet during the composition of Madame Bovary Flaubert famously remarked that "the author, in his work, should be like God in the universe: present everywhere and nowhere visible." His innovative authorial technique accomplished just this and influenced every writer that followed. Simply put, free indirect discourse - an ancient but previously aesthetically unutilized technique - allowed Flaubert to show the reader the world of his story instead of telling them about it as writers such as Hugo and Stendhal had done before. Free indirect discourse builds upon the subordinate clauses of indirect discourse (i.e. The woman was happy. She said to herself that she was loved. She wondered how she could ever feel better.). But far from being simply a grammatical style it allows the author to employ irony without resorting to narration. The reader is forced to evaluate statements and thoughts depending upon the characters involved and his or her own previous experience with the subject. In this manner, a statement can be true in the context of the character speaking it but known to be false by the reader so that a sentiment such as Emma's conviction that "she was finally going to possess those joys of love, that fever of happiness of which she had despaired." Emma believes this to be true because her new relationship with Rodolphe conforms to what she has read of romance but the reader knows that not only are those romances flawed but that Rodolphe has merely used the tropes of romance to seduce her.
What details in the story contribute to our understanding of Emma's conception of the world?
We learn that Emma's early education in the convent left her with a deep appreciation for the symbols and grandeur of religion but did not impress upon her any of the attendant discipline or self-sacrifice necessary for a religious life. Of far greater influence on the girl were the romantic novels and scenes she read - in particular the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott whose tales of knights in shining armor and heroines rescued on the brink of destruction made an indelible mark upon her psyche. In a sense, Emma never grew beyond a strictly idealized understanding of the world and when it failed to provide her with suitable material - as with her husband Charles - she reacted with extreme depression and sickness. Moreover, she insists that her lovers adhere to the tropes of the novels as when she commands Rodolphe to think of her at the stroke of midnight. Ultimately, Emma Bovary is a woman who believes that the outward appearance of things has the power to shape a person's character and happiness. She is disgusted by her mundane surroundings after experiencing the relative glamour of the aristocratic ball so she trains her maid to wait on her like a marquise. She reads the fashion magazines and dresses herself in the latest Parisian styles though she lives in the country. Finally, she insists that her lovers continuously reaffirm their passion even as the ardor fades from the relationship.
Which characters are successful at the end of the story and why?
Early in life Gustave Flaubert conceived an intense hatred for the bourgeois class of his day. The early bourgeois had benefited greatly from the French Revolution and as they consolidated their power in the early nineteenth-century they sought to meld the ideals of romanticism with the greater culture. At the time that Flaubert was composing Madame Bovary, however, a shift in the sensibilities of the bourgeois class had brought them increasingly into the realm of the pragmatism of the marketplace. Two characters in Madame Bovary, Monsieur Homais the pharmacist and Monsieur Lheureux the merchant, exemplify this new class while Emma's lovers, Rodolphe and Leon, are representative of the hypocrisy latent in their ilk's transformation from romantics to businessmen. Given Flaubert's feelings it is curious they are the characters who emerge successful at the end of the novel. Homais and Lheureux each obtain what they want and are prospering greatly at the close of the story. Rodolphe and Leon, having conducted successful affairs with Emma Bovary, are sleeping well on the night of her funeral. Leon abandons his romantic illusions and marries an heiress while Rodolphe is forgiven by Charles Bovary who seems pitiful in contrast. That these decidedly unsympathetic characters should triumph and the heroine's expense is explained in part by Flauber's extreme pessimism and in part by the realities of the age which rewarded profit regardless of the means.
In what ways do Monsieur Lheureux and Emma Bovary prefigure the modern consumer-based society?
Although the modern consumer-driven society did not emerge until after the First World War, the late nineteenth-century witnessed the rise of the marketplace as a defining component of society. Flaubert foresaw what the ramifications of this would be for the individual in such a society and modern readers of the novel recognize Emma Bovary's attempt to sublimate her unfulfilled desires through a passive consumerism that not only fails to satisfy her but eventually leads to her destruction. Consider the fact that it is not her adulterous affairs but rather her financial straits that disgrace her and lead to her suicide. Central to this theme is the character of Monsieur Lheureux whose lending schemes and aggressive marketing of his items prefigure modern credit systems and advertising campaigns.


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