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Emma Bovary's Powerlessness as a Woman

Autor:   •  March 11, 2014  •  Research Paper  •  2,478 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,672 Views

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Emma Bovary's Powerlessness as a Woman

Throughout the novel, Madame Bovary, the portrayal of Emma Bovary is one of the most deceptively ambiguous in nature. She is scathingly depicted as being immorality incarnate, and yet her circumstances have a somewhat tragic quality to them, as if it is her fate as an ambitious woman that brings her to her demise. In Madame Bovary readers find a confident, intelligent, and determined woman, one who knows what she wants, but has clearly no means of getting it; as if to be trapped in the mediocrity of the middle class is a hell in and of itself that only perverse self-indulgence can appease. Thus, the absolute lack of autonomy Emma experiences in the novel can be seen as one of Flaubert's cruel jokes on the moral values of the French bourgeoisie as a whole. She is constantly at the whims of men with varying levels of wealth and desire, her husband Charles and his torturously naïve ways, along with her lovers Leon and Rodolphe, both of whom promise to give her the happiness she seeks, only to snatch it away; and it is these men, who are in reality acting on their own selfish desires, that control the fate of Emma's life. They make it abundantly clear to Emma that the only value she has to offer others is purely carnal, capital which comes at the expense of deception, and the added cost of shame. She is incapable of obtaining the status and happiness she so passionately yearns for, and so in her desperation, she succumbs to trickery and degradation to fill the empty hole in her being that is her powerlessness.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, was in its time a shock. It's scathingly crude satirical portrayal of provincial life both frightened and outraged the French government and its people. This eponymous novel shares both a title and a common attribute with its protagonist in that it is almost purely rebellious in nature, both yearning for an acceptance their current environment isn't capable of providing. The literary world in the mid-1800s was still very much dominated by Romanticism. Most of Flaubert's contemporaries were still churning out hopelessly emotional subjective novels that glorified sacrificing reality and reason for the sake of emotional gratitude (Merriman). Madame Bovary vigorously, and yet subtlety, mocked these ideologies, gaining notoriety in the same literary community it was insulting. At this time, realism had just begun to challenge the literary establishment, with new writers seeking to portray things as they actually were, often at the expense of romantic values. Thus, Madame Bovary became his most celebrated work, garnering Flaubert recognition amongst his contemporaries as the most influential French realist (Merriman), using the established romantic tools to further his satire on what the life of a woman in bourgeoisie society is really like. When compared to the heroines in his contemporaries' work,


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