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Madame Bovary: A Tragic Hero

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March 13, 2006

Madame Bovary: A Tragic Hero

Every tragedy falls into two parts--Complication and Unraveling or Denouement...By Complication I mean all that extends from the beginning of the action to the part which marks the turning point to good or bad fortune. The Unraveling is that which extends from the beginning of the change to the end...There are four kinds of tragedy... [One being] the Pathetic (where the motive is passion). (p. 90)

In Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, the protagonist is, by definition, a tragic hero. Emma Bovary has certain character flaws that are driven by passion and she has urges to climb the social ladder. Her desires and so called "needs" consume her youth and, eventually, her life. Flaubert composes the book in a crafty way, meaning that the novel's moral structure requires Emma to assume responsibility for her own actions. Her affairs are brought on at her own will and their failures leave her hopeless. She not only is a slave for love, but a victim. By use of Flaubert's reoccurring themes and motifs, he paints a picture that makes the world of Emma Bovary a tragedy with pathetic traits.

Emma Bovary is trapped confines of her own character flaws and even as a child, these flaws are apparent. In the chapters where the reader learns about Emma's education at the convent, it is clear that she, even as a young teenager, has daydreams of living her life in an enchanted novel. "She had read Paul and Virginia, and had dreamed of the bamboo cabin...she dreamed that she, too, had a sweet little brother for a devoted friend, and that he climbed pluck her crimson fruit, and came running barefoot over the sand to bring her a bird's nest."(p. 41) It is clear that she desires things to be brought and presented to her by a man. The so called "brother" that she dreams of is clearly non-existent. This "brother" brings her a bird's nest, as if it was the world on a plate. When the reader meets the father, he arranges the marriage of Emma and Charles. Charles is too cowardly ("an importunate child" (p.40)) to ask for the hand in marriage himself and is by no means the man who is going to climb trees and bring her the fruits of which she desires. On just the next page of the novel, the reader learns that she loved to make confessions in the just to hear words like "...'betrothed,' 'spouse,' 'heavenly lover', 'mystical marriage'- excited her in a thrilling new way." (p.42) As a child, Emma also enjoyed the "sea for its storms alone" and "cared for vegetation only when it grew here and there among ruins." Although it is somewhat comical, it is also tragic. Flaubert clearly uses these short motifs to demonstrate Emma Bovary's pitiful characteristics.

The tragic hopelessness of Emma Bovary is conveyed by the means liquid images. It is as if the world is crying for Emma Bovary. During the early days of Charles's courtship of Emma, the reader is constantly hearing drops of water falling one by one. The snow is always melting, the walls are sweating and the trees are oozing. It is all the deterioration of the life and world of Emma. The erosion of everything can be inferred as the emptiness of time.

Madame Bovary also brings out this immense sadness of time's undoing. Old Rouault explains that, after his wife died, grief itself dissolved. The steady flow becomes the very symbol of a chronic despair. After Leon's departure, Emma is plunged again into a life



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