Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

     The novel, “Madame Bovary,” by Gustave Flaubert was written in the 19th century, a time when open admission of adultery for women was frowned upon. The life of the characters in, “Madame Bovary,” was dictated by fate. There were aspects of capitalism in the society which means that there existed a class of peasants and bourgeois. Charles Bovary belonged to the peasant class but due to his mother’s effort, he was able to study and interact with the bourgeois from time to time. His wife was also from a peasant family and her marriage to him, for her was a ticket out of poverty. She lived well beyond their means and Bovary had to find means of paying off the debts accumulated in the long run. The nature of their marriage, for Emma Bovary was not what she wanted. She wanted love, affection and attention. However, Bovary, being a doctor could not attend to all her needs and she resorted to having affairs to satisfy her desires. The characters are trapped in their status and their lives are dictated by fate rather than by their own effort and ambition.

     Emma Bovary’s desires about marriage were trained towards a fairy tale love story where happily ever after is how they all end. However, when she got married, her bubble was burst before long when she gave birth to a girl as opposed to her desire to give birth to a son. This is evident in the way she remembers her wedding day. “Emma dreamed of her marriage day; she saw herself at home again amid the corn in the little path as they walked to the church. Oh, why had not she, like this woman, resisted, implored? She, on the contrary, had been joyous, without seeing the abyss into which she was throwing herself,” (pt. 2, Ch. 15, pr. 12). Emma expected everything to pan out like in a fairy tale but that was not to be because after that point, her’s and her husband’s lives were driven by fate. They were stuck in their class because they had no political or financial influence strong enough to take them to a higher class. Bovary was comfortable but Emma always wanted more.

The aspects of the novel that apply to realism are more compared to romanticism as written by Flaubert. He brings out the reality of a married couple’s lives every day, especially the fact that Charles was already a widower and Emma was way younger than him. He also indicates the reality of not having a fairy tale day everyday by showing the way their weeding was set up by Emma’s father. Their marriage life changed for Bovary the day he took Emma to a ball. “Her journey to Vaubyessard had made a hole in her life, like one of those great crevices that a storm will sometimes make in one night in mountains,” (Pt. 1, Ch. 7, pr. 24). He introduced her to a life she felt was more ideal than the one they led. She wanted to attend more balls and mingle with the bourgeois but they had no means. She suddenly felt the need for more from the moment she danced with the Viscount. Vaubyessard did not imagine that that invitation was harmful to his guests because Emma had conducted herself like a member of an affluent family. The lives of Charles and Emma Bovary are driven by fate because free will is only available to the political class, all of which is supported by the Marxist idea of capitalism and conflict in a society.

Existentialism is the conflict between fate and free will, which I well elaborated by the character of Emma Bovary. She had been granted a good life by her husband. She had been married into a family that was more affluent than hers and lived well. There was conflict between Charles’ mother and Emma because she believed that Emma was not cultured enough. On the other hand, Emma believed that she deserved a better life than she already had with Charles. This is an internal conflict that destroyed Emma as the story progresses. The first major destabilizing factor in the marriage between Charles and Emma was their invitation to the Vaubyessard ball. At this ball, Emma came to the realization that her life was not complete. Flaubert wrote this part of his novel based on a real life experience. He observed how people conducted themselves and the character of Emma must have struck him. She made constant with people in the ball and by the end of the experience, she could identify Viscount distinctively. This is an indication that she had already realised what her husband was missing. 

Emma Bovary, was tied to her husband by fate. During that time, there were no processes of women being given options about who to marry, especially if their suitor was of a higher class. This is the same fate that bound Emma to her husband, a widower. She had no choice and the fact that Charles loved his wife further took away her gift of free will. She did not choose who to marry and thus ended up falling in love with the wrong kind of people. She ran into high levels of debt in an attempt to by affection. She bought affection from her partners, with whom she had extramarital affairs.  This is a point that comes out clearly when she needs help from one of them and he alludes that he has no money. “”I haven’t got them,” replied Rodolphe, with that perfect calm with which resigned rage covers itself as with a shield,” (Pt. 3, Ch. 7, pr. 9). This goes to show how fate dealt with Emma ruthlessly. She did not have a chance to make u for her mistakes. Fate denied her the free will of having the life she wanted, the kind of family she wanted and eventually frustrated her to the point of committing suicide.

The courage that Emma had of having extra marital affairs was enough for her to change her life. She would have used her contacts to create business networks that would have helped her elevate her status. However, the society was not receptive of women being in business presumably. This is deduced from the behaviour of the affluent women at the ball. The fact that her character was frowned upon by the members of the community was enough to show that she had pushed social boundaries. She had earned her right to free will but decided to stick o fate and got ruined in the process. In reality, her deciding to create a business or earn her own income would have been a tough thing to do and she chose the easy way out. When things hit rock bottom, she took poison.

Capitalist corruption was on full throttle at the time. The Marxist theory of conflict was present as well. This is see when Vaubyessard is cautious about inviting Emma and Charles to his ball. This is because, the social class difference of the two families is so wide but Emma thinks she can escape her reality and become one of the bourgeois. The class statuses were hereditary. Therefore, Emma could not assume Rodolphe’s class unless they got married. However, the reactions of Rodolphe towards his relationship with Emma is a clear indication that he was just using her, “”Ah!” thought Rodolphe, turning very pale, “that was what she came for.” At last he said with a calm air. … He did not lie. If he had had them, he would, no doubt, have given them, although it is generally disagreeable to do such fine things: a demand for money being, of all the winds that blow upon love, the coldest and most destructive, (Pt. 3, Ch.8, and Pr.7). His idea of fun and normal lifestyle drove Emma and her husband deep in debt. She had no idea of how to keep up the relationship without buying gifts and scarves for Rodolpe. Hippolyte on the other hand was a bit richer than Bovary but still not in the class of the bourgeois. This class of people do not make so many mistake by trying to b like their bosses compared to the “petty bourgeois” represented by Emma. The thirst in Emma to want a life that they could not afford was fuelled by the pair’s attendance of the ball. This result could possibly explain why, the class system was so strong. The introduction of the poor working class to that life was detrimental to their happiness. They are shown affluence and given no means to achieve it. The encounter of Emma and the Viscount stands out because it is the point where the shift in her comfort is seen. She immediately decides what her life should be like and tries hard to achieve it.

The conflict that Emma experiences in her life is expected in the Marxist theory of conflict. This is because, his ideal society had the bourgeois and the proletariat. These two groups cannot survive without each other but in the process of their co-existence, they cannot live in harmony. Emma brought upon herself shame by imagining that Rodolphe could help her out in her tough economic times. She looked at the possessions in his house and could not understand why he said he had no money yet he could sell a few things and raise enough to help her, “For you love yourself; you live well. You have a chateau, farms, woods; you go hunting; you travel to Paris. Why, if it were but that,” she cried, taking up two studs from the mantelpiece, “but the least of these trifles, one can get money for them. Oh, I do not want them, keep them!”” (Pt. 3, Ch.8, Pr.9). However, in his eyes, he had no money to give her, but he had for his own use. He also thought the idea of giving her money was disgusting. He viewed it as deal breaker for love. This understandably infuriates Emma who had taken out debts to buy him gifts that to him were normal and nothing to fuss about. These kind of difference can only come about when the different classes of the society, especially the low classes try to cross upwards. Emma tried too hard to become a bourgeois and her means could not support it. After her death, her husband was left deep in debt. He was likely to sink further into debt.

To conclude, Madame Bovary tried to live well above their means. She represented the current middle class society who try to live lavishly on loans and mortgages. She is the perfect example of the women who use their sexuality to climb the social ladders. The fact that she cheated on her husband severally and went on to have affairs with affluent men is an exact replica of what happens in the society today. Women want more than they can achieve by hard work. The fact that marriages are always not rosy is depicted in the story where Emma feels unsatisfied in her marriage and wishes she had resisted when it was first proposed. Today, people divorce in large numbers as opposed to during the times when the novel was written. The divorces usually are brought about by one partner feeling that they deserve more and opt to try and find their match. It is not always the case and some people have lived alone for the rest of their lives after a divorce.

There are many hindrances in trying to exercise free will and individualism in the society today because these social classes still exist. Their existence is marked with connections, availability of opportunities and influence in the market systems as well. This means that people from poor backgrounds pass on the lifestyles to their generations as the rich also do. The desires of man today cannot be satiated in this age of consumption. This happens just like in Emma’s case, she goes to the ball and sees fancy clothes, hairstyles and well cultured people. She goes back home and immediately tries to adapt the same. This is what happens to the middle class society today whereby; a family will admire a neighbourhood, get a mortgage for a house in that neighbourhood and shortly after, they switch their cars to match the status. At the end of each month, they barely have enough to live through to the next month because of the debts they already have to pay. At the end of everything, they have no investments and no money. 

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