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Madame Bovary: Metaphor Analysis

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Charles Bovary's Hat - The ugly, mongrel hat that young Charles Bovary wears on his first day at the lycee symbolizes the bourgeoisie attempt to combine various elements of culture into a single frame without regard to aesthetic value. The hat, which Flaubert describes in one of the book's most famous passages, serves to distinguish Charles from his classmates not only because of its outlandish appearance but because he fails to fling it to the ground as is the custom in the school. The combination provokes a great deal of mocking laughter from his classmates but this represents seemingly the only time that Charles is noticed as anything out of the ordinary during his time at the lycee. Thus, the hat symbolizes the ultimate failure of romantic bourgeoisie attempts to achieve social harmony,.
Binet's Lathe - Monsieur Binet's lathe symbolizes the banal, self-serving mediocrity of the bourgeoisie class that Emma seeks to escape with her love affairs and reckless spending. The tax collector's hobby - manufacturing napkin rings on his lathe - is seemingly banal enough in and of itself but coupled to this is his unwillingness to part with any of his creations. The droning sound of the lathe appears at key points in the story and serves to remind the reader that the commonplace concerns and values of the real world are laying in wait for Emma and suffusing all her actions.
Monsieur Homais - All the inhabitants of Yonville are characterized as two-dimensional types that satisfy a particular role in the story. Although we know nothing of his inner-life, Monsieur Homais receives the most description and he comes to symbolize a particular class of enlightened bourgeoisie that Flaubert as a pure artist found contemptible.
The Cigar Case - The most obvious symbol in the story is that of the green silk cigar case that Charles finds on the trip home from the ball at La Vaubyessard. Emma secrets the case away from her husband and spends her idle time musing over it and imbuing it with romantic meaning. She imagines that the case was owned by the vicomte and that it was gift from one of his mistresses in Paris. For Emma, the case comes to symbolize all the glamour and romantic associations of the ball itself and the world of aristocratic ease and luxury it represents. Before the ball, Emma was disappointed with her marriage to Charles but had nothing with which to compare it to. After the ball, and in particular her waltz with the vicomte, she can never be satisfied with her husband and begins to detest him.
The Blind Beggar - The scrofulous beggar who accosts travelers on the road outside of Rouen symbolizes death. Moreover, the nature of his disease and the lewd song that he sings about young maidens losing their virtue to passion carries particular meaning for Emma who is rightly terrified of him. Significantly, when her love affairs have ended and her finances are ruined she gives the beggar her last five francs in a symbolic gesture that foreshadows her death. It is appropriate that the beggar's song is the last thing she hears before she dies. Homais' attitude toward the beggar is indicative of his own personality. Since he cannot cure the man, symbolically overcome death, he prefers to have him locked up - out of sight and out of mind.


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