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Gender Role Reversal In Madame Bovary

1518 words - 7 pages

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, written in nineteenth century France, portrays an accurate depiction of the culture and lifestyle of the time period. Everything, from elaborate descriptions to subtle comments, show the realism the narrator presents. Consequently, he comments on the aspects of everyday life. Throughout the novel, Flaubert emasculates male characters through the reversal of gender roles in order to mock the social order of the Victorian Era. Several male characters, including Charles Bovary and Leon, acquire feminine characteristics as Emma Bovary loses her own. This reversal exposes the flawed family structure of the time and challenges the need for a male figure as the ...view middle of the document...

He does this out of his love for her, but disregards his responsibilities and obligations, failing to provide for the rest of his family. As the novel progresses, Charles becomes more of a wife to Emma than a husband, doting on her instead of providing for her.
During their affair, Leon reflects Emma’s personality in her relationship with Rodolphe. Leon abandons his responsibilities to spend time with her, leaving his work and ignoring colleagues. He even ignores the advice of his mother and her warnings of the possibility of compromising himself with Emma, as she was warned by others. Just as Emma molded her ideas to agree with Rodolphe, Leon “never disputed any of her ideas; he fell in love with her tastes: he was becoming her mistress, far more than she was his” (315). This compliance resembles the expectation of Victorian wives, who were meant to agree with their husbands on important issues. Emma often disagrees with Charles, but readily agrees with Rodolphe’s beliefs. Leon abandons his own ideas to adopt Emma’s, providing evidence of his feminine characteristics. Emma resists his advances at the start of the relationship, but she succumbs after his continued insistence. Her love for Rodolphe traps her in the relationship, which is only ended when he grows tired of her. In a similar way, Leon “did his best to stop loving her; then at the sound of her footsteps he would feel his will desert him, like a drunkard at the sight of liquor” (321). His love for Emma mirrors hers for Rodolphe. Flaubert presents this love as an addiction, as each of them leave their everyday lives for rendezvous with their lover. As Emma escapes to Rodolphe’s house, Leon escapes to the hotel room. The mirroring the narrator describes between their relationships serves to emasculate Leon by asserting his role as Emma’s mistress.
Flaubert implements feminine attributes in Charles and Leon’s personalities which allows Emma to fill masculine roles. In their marriage, Charles is emotional while Emma is cold and unfeeling, the opposite of what should be expected from the time. While she does express emotions in her affair with Leon, Emma manages their relationship, controlling their meetings and buying him expensive gifts. Emma adopts one of her largest masculine role as “one day she showed him the draft of a general authorization to manage and administer his affairs, negotiate all loans, sign and endorse all promissory notes, pay all sums, etc.” (290). Charles’ inability to collect money from most of his patients results from his femininity in the form of sympathy for their poverty. Emma views this as a weakness, granting herself the right to assume control of the finances in order to hide the expenses of her affair. In historical context, married women rarely took over the finances, as it was seen as a job for the husband. Charles’ absence of masculine qualities leads to Emma’s acceptance of them. The more feminine aspects Charles displays, the more masculine Emma...

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