Madame Bovary - Emma's Relationships with Herself and Others


Madame Bovary: The Tragedy of Emma Bovary's Relationships with Herself and Others

Madame Bovary is a narrative which compels the reader to keep turning the pages once he has begun reading. There are no screaming car chases, no resourceful detectives, no horrifying surprises, and no terrifying secrets to capture the reader's attention and rivet him to the page: There is only a tragic, well-written, delightfully descriptive narrative about a woman who was raised in the convent, her life, her scandalous conduct, and her untimely death. The narrative is compelling in its concentration on the relationships between the characters in the novel. The tragedies of the novel are based on these relationships, especially the relationship of Emma to herself, to the men in her life, and to the peripheral characters in her life such as her daughter, Berthe, Monsieur Lheureux, the proprietor of the local dry-goods store, and Justin, the pharmacist's assistant.

One of the tragedies of Emma Bovary's relationship with herself was that she never really understood herself. Emma did not realize that the yearning she had for an exciting lover who would romance her amidst the trappings of luxury was engendered by her reading of silly, sentimental stories while she was growing up. Because Emma was raised in a convent and had little exposure to life beyond the convent or her home farm, she had unrealistic expectations of ife?- expectations garnered from the foolish books she read. Emma seemed to believe that her perception of how life should be was the correct one and that people like her husband who never seemed to want anything more were "boobies." Emma never really understood herself enough to know that she was shallow, deceitful, sensuous, lustful, and totally corrupted by her desires. Emma's whole focus in life was pleasing herself; yet, she never really knew who she was.

Another tragedy in Emma's relationship with herself was that she was never really honest with herself. Emma knew she was being untruthful and adulterous to her husband, but she never acknowledged or understood that she was dishonest with herself. Emma never held an inner dialog or indulged in any self-reflection other than that of thinking of ways to satisfy her carnal longings. All of Emma's thoughts were turned toward sensual satisfaction instead of self- reflection. Emma never acknowledged her lack of maternal feelings for her daughter, Berthe. Berthe was only a peripheral character in Emma's life?-she very seldom even thought of the child. Emma never acknowledged what she was doing when she kept borrowing money from Monsieur Lheureux, the proprietor of the local dry-goods store, and Emma never once thought about what would happen to Justin if it were found he had allowed her to take the arsenic which killed her. Emma was never honest enough with herself to acknowledge that she never thought about anyone or anything except her own passionate longings. Emma's lack of self-reflection caused her to react in an animal-like manner to life: she lived by a gut reaction to her longings, satisfying them in whatever dishonest way she could, never stopping to consider the consequences of her actions. The tragedy of her actions is that Emma, if she had had any self-reflection, if she had once tried to think things out, if she had once tried to really communicate with her husband on a level other than frustration with his unperceptive personality, if she had ever been honest with herself or had conceded that her whole life was based on pleasing herself and abusing everyone else in her life, if she had just once, thought of anyone other than herself?-Emma would have had a chance at redemption, a chance to mature, a chance to become the wife that Charles thought he had married.

Another tragedy in Emma's relationship with herself was her lack of imagination or empathy. Emma could not imagine how other people felt about life and could not conceive of the notion of "walking a mile in someone's mocassins." Emma could not perceive how she appeared to her lovers (jealous and obsessive), she could not empathize with her lonely, neglected daughter, she could not imagine what Monsieur Lheureux might do if she could not pay him back, she could not understand Justin's simple-minded admiration for her, and most of all, Emma could not imagine how ordinary