Set in the Victorian era of the 1800’s Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert exemplifies society’s views on the established gender roles of this time. Flaubert utilizes Emma Bovary’s masculinity to accentuate Emma’s desire for control. Her desire for control extends from the social pressure of the period, revealing her envy towards men. Flaubert undoubtedly depicts Emma’s characteristics to have a masculine undertone and throughout the novel her femininity deviates as her priority shifts. Emma’s lack of femininity translates to her relationships by maneuvering an interchanging role of a girlfriend or boyfriend.
In Madame Bovary, Emma creates conspicuous goals based off romantic novels she reads. In reaching her goals, she requires a level of control and meekness especially regarding the relative goals a woman could have during the Victorian era. Eventually, she finds herself struggling with the limits society puts on her as a woman. Emma says,
A man, at least, is free; he may travel over passions and over countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most far-away pleasures . . . A woman is always hampered . . . there is always some desire that draws her, some conventionality that restrains. (Flaubert 93),
Emma projects her views of an ideal man in her expected son. As if fantasizing what her life would be like having the control that men have in society. The resentment she feels towards her choices correlates to the resentment she feels being a woman. Emma tries to prevail over the obstacles of being a woman by trying to do activities that a man would typically do like going out all night in town, spending vast money on a rendezvous and courting a desired companion. After Leon’s departure the narrator speaks of Emma’s method of coping with the loss and subconscious understanding of her place in society he mentions,
She wanted to learn Italian; she bought dictionaries, a grammar, and a supply of white paper. She tried serious reading, history, and philosophy . . . But her reading fared like her piece of embroidery . . . She took it up, left it, passed on to other books (Flaubert 82).
Emma compares her opportunities and position in society to those of Leon. While Society encourages him to become cultured, educated, and expand his horizons on the contrary women hinders in that desire may only be just that, but a hopeful wish to be granted by their spouse. Her sadness, not only derives from Leon’s departure, but of her realization of a woman’s bound role under the law and status.
Flaubert depicts Emma as having subtle masculine characteristics emphasizing her masculinity not only mentally but physically as well. In some cases, Flaubert uses irony to characterize Emma’s masculine features. “Yet her hand was not beautiful, perhaps not white enough, and a little hard at the knuckles; besides, it was too long, with no soft inflections in the outlines” (Flaubert 28) the narrator describes Emma as lacking the soft subtle femininity that high-class women...