The Inevitable Abyss of Madame Bovary
Dr. Satler’s comments: This student’s paper displays the radiance of writing kindled by discriminating reading. His careful attention to words and their subtle tones in context translate into interpretive language that clarifies the subtle shapes of meaning.
The abyss that so terrifies Emma in Madame Bovary is reality and the crushing finality of it. The fantasy world that she has constructed from early childhood takes on more and more substance until it becomes her alternate reality. True reality is still there for her, but it exists as a shadow of the substance of her fantasies. When she is confronted by reality, in any form that threatens her fantasy world, she perceives it as an abyss opening before her.
Throughout the book, we see Emma creating her fantasy world and insulating herself from the harsh light of reality. The disillusionment with her marriage and the exposure to the glamour of Vaubyessard is a major building block in this fantasy world. Flaubert tells us that "her journey to Vaubyessard had made a gap in her life," and although "she was resigned" to her marriage and life with Charles, "something had rubbed off on [her heart] that could not be removed" (p. 40). We are told that from this point on that the memory of the ball at Vaubyessard "became an occupation" for her. Flaubert's genius is evident in his choice of words here. To use the term "obsession" would destroy the lambent subtlety at an early stage of the story, whereas "occupation" leaves us with an impression of the innocent triflings of a young woman.
Emma's alternate reality is, however, beyond obsession. A student of psychology would easily label her a true sociopath. She is incapable of feeling any genuine affection or love for anyone but herself. Even her daughter fails to evoke any true emotion in her. It would not make sense to consider that the abyss is guilt, because Emma is incapable of feeling guilt. Remorse, for Emma, is as selfish as the rest of her emotional desert, and is brought on by fear--not love. A close examination of her religious indulgences reveals no guilt or chagrin. Rather, we are told that "she addressed to the Lord the same suave words that she had murmured formerly to her lover in the outpourings of adultery" (p.155).
The first time that the abyss is mentioned may be confusing for some, but only if it is taken out of context. In this instance--at the theatre with Charles--she rues the fact that "she had walked joyously and unwittingly into the abyss... "(p. 162). At first glance, it might seem that the abyss is her adultery, but marriage and adultery share the abyss here. It is also interesting to note...