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Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary Essay

1486 words - 6 pages

In the realist novel Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert criticizes Romanticism through Emma Bovary's perpetual disappointment, which is brought upon by her dreams, expectations, materialistic habits and lust for individual freedom. Flaubert constructs and utilizes Emma’s romantic ideals to convince her that she deserves better than what she has, and this leads her down a path of constant dissatisfaction. He exaggerates Emma's expectations and her confusion between imagination and reality, he reveals Emma's urge to keep up with the latest trends and her "money buys happiness" mentality, and he crafts a society in which Emma feels trapped. By parodying the romantic style and exhibiting how Emma's beliefs and values seem both unreasonable and detrimental, Flaubert criticizes the unrealistic standards of Romanticism.
Throughout the novel, Flaubert shows how romantic ideals can lead to high expectations that may never be fulfilled. Many things do not live up to Emma’s expectations, but the focus of her disappointment is her husband Charles. Emma marries Charles, a common bourgeois man, in hopes of experiencing the sensation of love she yearned for as a child. However, she is left utterly disappointed. She frequently comments on his banality, simplicity and general unappealing presence. Once, Flaubert even mentions that Charles “seemed so feeble, a nullity, a creature pathetic in every way." (204) His lack of a romantic personality leaves Emma’s heart and soul unfulfilled. Emma’s perversely high expectations were fabricated from her dreams and desires, and Flaubert based these fantasies off of far-fetched romantic novels she had been reading all her life. These fairy-tale novels all center around passionate heroines, enrapturing Emma’s imagination and implanting the idea in her mind that she deserves the same fate as her fictional idols. This influences Emma’s expectations of reality and deceives her into thinking that her romantic ideals are capable of occurring in real life. Flaubert shows Emma’s confusion between imagination and reality again by saying “She summoned the heroines from the books she had read... seeing herself as one of those great lovers she had so long envied." (131) Emma constantly dreams about living a fairy tale life, and goes to great lengths to fulfill her desires. Her view of love is based completely on how love is portrayed in her novels, and thus lives with a misperception of reality and unreachable expectations. Reality does not always meet expectations, especially unrealistic ones. Emma even states "I detest common heroes and temperate feelings, the way they are in real life." (66) The unfortunate normality of the real world makes Emma bitter, dissatisfied and unhappy. Emma is largely influenced by her far-fetched novels and romantic ideals and comes to expect them from the real world. She assumes that there must be a man out there that could make her feel like a heroine. This leads to her high expectations of life and her...

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