Madame Bovary - Symmetry


Symmetry of Narrative in Flaubert?s Madame Bovary

Over the span of the XIX century, Europe?s socioeconomic and political reality was transformed by unprecedented changes in technological development. Urbanization and the emergence of the middle class redefined the social stratification of most European countries. These dramatic changes did not go unnoticed in art, and particularly in literature. The idealistic individualism of the romantic era gave way to a movement referred to as realism. This new wave of literature focused on the observations of everyday contemporary life and attempted to portray it with an almost scientific objectivity. Gustave Flaubert was one of the foremost writers of the realistic tradition and his novel Madame Bovary became one of the most celebrated works of the time. Through the use of the free indirect discourse and a changing narrative point of view, Flaubert attempted to keep a level of detachment from his characters and thus to portray reality in as objective manner as possible. Despite the fact that Madame Bovary is the main character, the novel begins and ends with the point of view of Charles Bovary in order to convey the sense of objectivity characteristic of works of the realistic movement, as well as to reveal a series of ironies inherent in the main characters.
Flaubert, like all other realists, wanted to be as objective in his writing as possible. Certain literary methods allow the author to portray the world he or she creates in a somewhat detached manner. One of the techniques used in Madame Bovary is referred to as the free indirect discourse. It involves the change from the linguistic form typical of a direct quote of a character?s words or thoughts, to that characteristic of indirect speech. This method of writing allows the author to present events as the character would have experienced them, as opposed to interpreting them as an omniscient narrator. Through the use of the free indirect discourse, the author reveals the novel?s world through the subjective point of view of its characters. In Madame Bovary, the narrator describes only things seen or experienced by the character whose point of view is being expressed at the time and the nature of this description is subjective to the manner in which the character experiences his or her world. As the point of view switches between the characters, the reader is presented with a series of subjective perceptions, a synthesis of which depicts a theoretically objective reality.
One of the main problems inherent in this subjective technique of description is that of the reader?s misinterpretation of the intended meaning of the novel. If Flaubert had shown the world of Madame Bovary entirely through the eyes of Emma, the reader would be bound to eventually accept her interpretation as a correct one and begin relating to her. Furthermore, the reader would likely assume that Emma?s point of view is reflective of that of Flaubert. Not only would this be detrimental to Flaubert?s intended effect of objectivity, but more importantly, the continuous implicit criticism of Emma would go unnoticed. To prevent this from happening, the author had to describe the events of his book through the eyes of more than one character. It is understandable, therefore, that Emma is first shown through the eyes of Charles Bovary. The reader gets slowly acquainted with her, as does Charles, and can judge her more accurately when the point of view becomes hers. The first physical description of Emma is crucial to the reader?s opinion of her nature: "Charles was surprised by the whiteness of her fingernails. They were almond shaped, tapering, as polished and shining as Dieppe ivories. Her hands, however, were not pretty ? not pale enough, perhaps, a little rough at the knuckles; and they were too long, without softness of line" (Flaubert 898). This passage is an example of free indirect discourse, since Emma?s hands are described as Charles sees them. However, the flaws described by the narrator cause the reader to recognize Emma as a peasant girl, not the bourgeois princess she will later see herself as. Through passages such as this one, Flaubert ensures that the reader will judge Madame Bovary with a certain level of objectivity when the novel switches to her point of view.
There is a second, more symbolic reason for the structural frame of Madame Bovary. The book is not just a story of Emma, but "the