Flaubert's Madame Bovary and the Seven Deadly Sins Term Paper

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Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary was a major shock to the reading public in the nineteenth century, leading to charges of obscenity and a court case on the issue. Emma has an adulterous affair as one of her actions trying to escape from the banality of her existence, and her actions were seen as a direct challenge to the accepted middle class virtues of the time. In part, this was a reaction by Flaubert to the hypocrisy of the middle class at a time when France was still undergoing the social upheaval that started with the French Revolution in 1789, followed by the reign of Napoleon. Flaubert was tried for a violation of public morals, but he was acquitted. The trial served to make the novel even more notorious, while its quality generated critical praise that would make the book recognized as among the most important novels ever written.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Flaubert's Madame Bovary and the Seven Deadly Sins Assignment

The idea held by society about the Seven Deadly Sins was that committing one of these actions imperiled the soul. In truth, there is no scriptural support for this idea, but popularly these sins are held out as the cardinal sins that one must not commit. For Flaubert, though, this idea was largely for show as he saw the middle class committing them all. Flaubert approached his subject in a very realistic fashion and so countered the prevailing romanticism of the day, and this approach included a more realistic depiction of sex for the day, probably the main reason the novel encountered legal problems. Emma is a woman who seems devoted to the accepted code of conduct of the day but who also flouts those conventions in her private life. Her rebellious attitude would have been criticized in a man as well, but for a women to behave as she does was a major scandal and also went against the prevailing view of women as docile, subservient, and controlled by their husbands. Emma's rebellion was a major attack on the m idle class and the values of French society at the time, and this included a religious challenge against the supposed supremacy of the Seven Deadly Sins as "crimes" that would lead to damnation. Each sin is closely linked to another, leading to other greater sins. The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony, avarice, and lechery, all the result of a failure to control the flesh.

The Novel

The story of Emma Bovary is told in a way that deliberately avoids grand moral dilemmas and dramatic action, though moral dilemmas are inherent in the material. The main character, Emma Bovary, interacts with several men in the course of her story. She is seen as rebellious in the long-term, but she begins with a belief in high ideals, though this is also part of her dedication to a romantic and adventurous life. Emma is always seeking something other than what she has. This desire on her part for romance and adventure contrasts with the banality of her middle-class existence, and Flaubert emphasizes this difference as a way of illuminating Emma's character by showing the difference between her dreams and her reality. Her high-mindedness could be a source of ambition and a spur to greater effort to achieve the ideal, but the effect in this novel is to make Emma more dissatisfied, make her hyper-critical of her surroundings and the people she knows, always make her ready to move from one person to another. Her high-mindedness contrasted with her actual behavior also makes her seem more foolish. The affairs she has are with men she believes to be as noble and grand as the characters in fiction, but once more she is bound to be disappointed in the reality and is betrayed again and again as a result. Rodolphe betrays her openly by disappearing, while Leon betrays her with the reality of his personality so that she becomes bored once more and drops him. Emma's affairs are not noble or grand as she believes they should be.

When we first meet Emma Bovary, she is a woman already bored by her existence and showing it. When she is conversing with Charles, she is described in terms that show how social conventions and the resulting boredom affect her:

She had been complaining ever since the spring began of fits of deafness... She would have liked to live in town, at all events during the winter months, although perhaps the long days made the country still more boring in the summer... her voice would be clear, shrill, or, suddenly sinking into languor, linger in modulations which ended almost in a whisper, as if she were speaking to herself?-now joyfully, with wide-open, innocent eyes, now with lids half-closed, and a look of boredom, as her thoughts wandered aimlessly. (Flaubert 39)

When Emma comments on the need to observe the laws of society, Rodolphe points out ways of getting around that:

Yes, but one must observe the laws of society more or less, and obey its moral code."

Ah! But there are two codes," he replied. "The lesser one, the conventional, the man-made code [and] the other, the eternal." (Flaubert 251)

For Emma, man-made codes are stifling, such as the social code that relegates women to a secondary role and that prevents them from following the sort of romantic fantasies she finds in books and believes men can follow. Emma faces the social conditions of the country in particular and finds that they lead to boredom, while the social conditions in the city offer more choices and more opportunities for something to do. In truth, though, all life in her society produces boredom for Emma because that life will never rise to the level of excitement and romance she finds in fiction. Her own life would be viewed as comfortable by most people of her time, for she and Charles are middle-class, not wealthy, but well-off enough to afford luxuries and to have a sense of security. That alone seems to add to her boredom -- she does not have to fight for anything in life and so begins to question what she already has.

French society and politics have been marked by regional divisions along with economic and social divisions. During the ancien regime, referring to the period prior to the French Revolution, an absolutist monarchy and a provincial aristocracy dominated French society. Industrial and urban development came in the late nineteenth century. This was uneven, leaving French society dominated by rural and small town interests up to the 1950s and fostering income differentials considered among the broadest in Europe. Ideological differences have also been stark and firmly held in a nation suffused with utopian philosophical idealism. Throughout the post-Revolution era, the country has been bitterly divided between those on the Left who have favored the transfer of power to a democratic, representative, and republican legislature and who have tried to foster effective local government, individual and press freedom, and secularism, and those on the Right who have sought order, stability, and unity through a strong, autocratic, and centralized executive form of administration supported by a respected Catholic Church (Derbyshire 1-2).


The setting for Madame Bovary is significantly a smaller and more provincial town on the French landscape, one of the many more rural towns that dominated the country in Flaubert's time. In such a setting, the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins and of the threat of sin itself would likely have more power than in a large city like Paris. The setting has particular power in this novel because the countryside, while on the one hand producing people with narrower points-of-view and with more religious fervor, also stands as a symbol of fecundity and sensuality. Phillip a. Duncan finds that the colors emphasized in the novel help illustrate the themes, and he says blue and green are the dominant colors. Blue is used as a sign of happiness or promised happiness, such as those moments when Emma dreams of escape to rare and idealized places where love is eternal. Green is used "to reinforce the dreary social ambiance or, more generously, in other contexts as a sexual and/or Satanic allusion" (Duncan para. 1). He nots that green is always a sign of springtime and fertility, and that this is soon turned to a sign for human sexuality and love. In the novel, green is often used as an association with the arousal of sexual desire in Emma. For instance, when she and Leon are walking through the fields, the undulating green grasses through which they walk suggests sensuality and sexual desire. The color is also used when she meets Rodolph and is soon intoxicated by her desire for him: "Here twining vegetation (implicitly green) is an emblem of Emma's sexual vulnerability. Rodolphe pursues his strategy of seduction" (Duncan para. 4). Duncan writes,

Emma's health fails when Rodolphe abandons her. At a moment of crisis she asks for communion and again experiences that illusion of the disintegration of formal… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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