Effect Of Societal Views On Emma In Madame Bovary - ENG3UE Colonel By S.S. - Essay

1429 words - 6 pages

Effect of Societal Views on Emma in Madame Bovary
Word Count: 1376
Yousuf Ansari
Colonel By Secondary School
World Literature Assignment
IB Number:
Teacher: Ms. Waddell
February 11, 2019
Ansari, Yousuf 1
In France during the mid 19th century, society was built of very specific norms which the
majority of people followed. In ​Madame Bovary​ by Gustave Flaubert, the main character,
Emma’s beliefs and actions are strongly influenced by the societal views of love and
relationships in the setting of 1850s France. The specific views of society pertaining to love
which have an effect on Emma’s character are: the society’s thoughts on the purpose of
marriage, the role of women in a relationship and the religious standpoint of marriage.
Firstly, throughout the novel, it is shown that the purpose of love and marriage according
to the society differs significantly from the purpose of love according to Emma. This difference
makes Emma a lot more secretive with her thoughts and actions, not wanting to be out of the
norm or to displease anyone. The first instance where Flaubert shows the effect this has on
Emma occurs near the beginning when she is set to marry Charles after the approval of her
father. During the setting of 1850s France, marriage was seen to be something very superficial
intended to benefit both parties, for example with Charles and Heloise’s relationship it was
arranged and money-based. We find out very quickly that Emma has a very unrealistic view of
love and marriage, she looked at it as something very romantic and perfect. For her wedding,
Emma “yearned to be married by midnight, by torchlight; but Pere Rouault wouldn’t hear of it.
So there was a wedding feast, with forty-three guests.” (Flaubert, 24) This quote goes to show
that weddings in this setting were not exactly all that romantic in contradiction to Emma’s views
on marriage, not wanting to displease anyone she keeps these thoughts to herself. Secondly,
during this time in France, the main point of marriage was to help each other by sharing
responsibilities and between the two partners and communication was not anything too important
in marriage, this can be seen with Charles and Emma early on, who don’t really have a real
Ansari, Yousuf 2
connection. We learn early on that Charles pays no attention to her words, instead, he only loves
her for her beauty, Flaubert writes, “The night on his way home, Charles went one by one
through the things she had said, trying to remember them, to complete their meaning, so as to
grasp something of her life before he had known her.” (22) This lack of communication
eventually leads Emma into unethical actions such as adultery. When the character of Leon is
introduced to Emma it is shown that they have very similar romantic views on love and similar
aspirations in life. The communication and connection which Leon and Emma from causes her to
fall in love with him and cheat on her husband without expressing her issues first. The purpose
of love and relationships from the perspective of the society shapes Emma’s personality in that it
makes her more to herself and secretive about her problems which ultimately lead to unethical
The next societal view which significantly influences Emma’s character is the role of a
woman in a relationship. In the setting of 1850s France, women did not have much power, the
had very specific responsibilities for the household giving them a very confined lifestyle. They
took care of the family and satisfied the desires of their husbands, while their husbands earned
the money, this was the lifestyle that seemed the most efficient during this time as love was not
the main priority for marriage and it was instead the ability to help each other survive. Emma has
many desires in her life as Flaubert constantly to displays throughout the novel and is not
satisfied with the regular style of living in this setting, this confined lifestyle causes Emma to
form certain opinions on her situation. She looks at her condition in a way that she has no
freedom within her household and is unable to fulfill her wishes with all these restrictions. She
wishes to be liberated from her situation by escaping rather than challenging the norms of society
Ansari, Yousuf 3
during this period. Flaubert uses the excellent symbol of windows to demonstrate her will to be
free. Emma eventually realizes her goal of happiness in life is near impossible to attain when
Flaubert writes: “She was not happy, had never been so. Where did it come from, this feeling of
deprivation, this instantaneous decay of the thing she put her trust in?” (264) The next instance
where we see Emma’s beliefs being influenced by the role of women according to society, is
when she wishes for a son rather than a daughter simply because she believes that all the
restrictions placed on women keep them from living an ideal life, she states: “[a woman] is
always hampered … always drawn by some desire, restrained by some rule of conduct” (74). In
comparison to the men in the novel which are seen to be a lot more successful in fulfilling their
life goals, for example with Leon who becomes a lawyer. The views on the role of a woman in a
relationship from the perspective of the society in 1850s France, influences Emma’s character by
causing her to form certain beliefs about life.
Finally, another topic which can be looked at when considering views of the society in
the setting of 1850s France is the religious standpoint on relationships. During this time period,
the society had a very conservative mindset mostly influenced by the dominant catholic religion
in France. Emma is someone who clearly is not satisfied with her sexual life with Charles, she
desired forms of love which were unrealistic and to some extents not possible for her, Flaubert
shows us this by mentioning her imaginative view of the world influenced by the romantic
novels she is interested in. This causes her to turn to the secretive life of adultery as seen with
Rodolphe. They are mainly in love with each other for sexual needs, as seen when they are alone
in the council chamber “A supreme desire set their parched lips trembling; and soothingly,
easily, their fingers entwined.” (139) Since sexuality was something which was a very personal
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top in the setting of 1850s France, Emma’s action were influenced as she had to be very secretive
about it. Adultery is and act which prohibited in Catholicism and the fact that Emma still does it
instead of just separating from Charles, shows that she is not exactly a strong follower of the
religion but rather, she does not want to be out of the norm and be known as someone who left
their husband, which bring attention to another situation where Emma’s character is influenced
by the religious standpoint on love and relationships during this time. In the majority of major
religions, including Catholicism, it is a known fact that divorce is strongly discouraged. This
again, makes Emma become very secretive about her affairs instead of confronting her husband
even though she saw him as: “​feeble, a nullity, a creature pathetic in every way.” (234)​ a​nd the
thought of divorce doesn’t even cross her mind as Flaubert writes, “How could she get rid of
him? What an endless evening! She felt numb, as though she had been overcome by opium
fumes.”​ Due to the strong presence of religion in the setting of 1850s France, Emma’s actions are
affected as she does not want to be seen out of the norm by doing things discouraged in her
In ​Madame Bovary​ by Gustave Flaubert, the main character Emma’s beliefs are strongly
shaped by the societal views of love and relationships in the setting of 1850s France. Society was
built up of many of these norms during the setting of 1850s France. This novel confirmed my
belief that too much effort put into trying to reach a perfect situation can lead to immoral actions.
Throughout the novel, we see Emma Bovary try her hardest to try and achieve her lofty
aspirations, however, her search for the perfect love leads her into making the wrong choices and
ultimately, she regrets trying to achieve a perfect world. Same can be said about people in the
real world, too much desire for something can lead you to making the wrong decisions.
Ansari, Yousuf 5
Works Cited
Flaubert, Gustave.​ Madame Bovary.​ Penguin Classics, 2002

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