Madame Bovary the Awakening Thesis

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Madame Bovary; The Awakening

Much has been written about the oppressive situation respectively faced by the protagonist of Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Chopin's The Awakening. Both novels occur at a time in history when women were viewed as little more than objects of adoration, breeding, and housekeeping within society, by both the male and female gender. Indeed, the principle of excellence in the role of wife and mother is perpetuated from mother to daughter, as well as by social institutions such as education and religion. The authors provide various symbolic references to demonstrate the oppression suffered by Flaubert's Emma and Chopin's Edna. Most notable of these is the motif of the caged bird. Furthermore, social constructs such as religion and slavery are also used to reinforce the concept of oppression as experience by these women. Ultimately, neither Edna nor Emma believe that they have any recourse to freedom and self-expression other than death. Although both novels are set in the 19th century, when oppression was suffered much more concretely by women and minority racial groups than today, in the 21st century, it will be argued that the symbolism and social constructs indicted by both novels are as relevant today as they were at the time of writing.

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Elizabeth Elz addresses the imagery of the bird in Kate Chopin's novel as expressing Edna's development during the course of the narrative. Edna Pontellier's cage is well-kept and gilded (Elz 2), and all the more oppressive for the lie of comfort and fulfillment it perpetuates. The types of birds the author uses are also important in terms of symbolism. The parrot and the mocking bird at the beginning for example serve as the juxtaposition of the appearance of opulence with the reality of oppression, while the recurring white bird of Edna's dream symbolize her final escape.

Thesis on Madame Bovary the Awakening Assignment

Edna's entrapment is all the more poignant because of her awareness of it. While she understands both French and English, she is unfamiliar with what Elz (3) refers to as the "language of social customs." She enters Creole society by marriage. She does not understand it, because she did not grow up in it or was educated in it. For her social education, she is dependent upon her husband. In this way, both education, social norms, and marriage serve as traps for the free spirit that was Edna.

Edna therefore suffers disempowerment on various levels, including social symbolism and the ability to communicate her dilemma. Even her close friend Adele fails as a possible escape, even if only temporary and even if only in conversation. Indeed, when Edna abandons her initial instinct to say nothing of her inner turmoil, Adele betrays her confidence by dismissal, claiming that it is "too hot to think…" (Chopin 16). Indeed, Edna surrenders to the inability to communicate by observing that "nothing" is the standard response to questions regarding one's thoughts, especially if one is a woman, and expected to think only of how to make the lives of husband's and children more comfortable.

Another interesting breakdown in conversation occurs later in the novel, when Adele and Edna find themselves arguing about the merit's of a woman sacrificing her life for her children. Edna maintains that she does not see the merit in such sacrifice, while Adele holds that there is no more worthy sacrifice. Adele uses religion in order to substantiate her views; another social construct that Edna finds difficult to either understand or submit to. According to both the religious and social construct, the woman is to sacrifice herself to the household, and even give her life in this endeavor, should it be necessary. Edna is unable to make sense of this in terms of her concept of self. In the end, she is able to sacrifice herself, not for her children, her family or her home, but only for the sake of her own freedom from these entrapments.

In this, Elz (5) notes that Adele is able to subscribe to the oppression of social and religious norms only because she has no concept of her own inner being. Her being is entirely enveloped in the social expectations of herself as a woman. This has eroded her own identity to such an extent that she has deceived herself into believing in the fulfillment that these expectations bring.

In terms of friendship, Edna is however not limited to a singular worldview in the form of Adele Ratignolle. Mademoiselle Reisz provides her with an alternative to the oppressive regime suggested by Edna's friend and society as a whole. Whereas Adele advocates the merits of the True Woman, Mademoiselle Reisz proposes the New Woman (Elz 6). Edna's turmoil is based upon the conflict created by the juxtaposition of her inner and her outer self. Although she is not a woman who idolizes her husband and children to the point of worship, she nonetheless has all the elements that might be expected of such a woman: a husband, children and household responsibilities. Mademoiselle Reisz is the only one who recognizes the agony of this juxtaposition within Edna.

Elz (6) further addresses the bird motif by noting the concept of wings. Edna is spreading her wings, although the nature of these wings is an issue of some contention between Adele and Mlle Reisz. The wings of the what Elz terms the True Woman, for example, function to hover her around her various duties to serve those closest to her. The New Woman, on the other hand, have wings to carry her to the freedom of a new journey. Ultimately, Edna's wings however fail her, and the only new journey she can complete is the one to her death. In terms of life, the conflict between the needs of her inner being and the way in which her world was manifest failed her, and she failed in response.

This conflict is also evident in Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The main character, Emma, fails in manifesting her assigned role as wife from the beginning. Her inner being, like Edna's, is unable to reconcile itself with the requirements of social appearance. In addition to the caged bird symbolism, Flaubert also uses the symbols denoting womanhood of the time; in particular needlework (Champagne 103). The juxtaposition is firstly denoted by the title of the novel and the name of the main character. Before being married, the main character is known as Emma Rouault. The title of the novel is symbolic of the cultural requirement of marriage, which binds her to a role that is in fact only external, and fails to serve her inner being or needs.

According to Champagne (104), the author uses needlework to externally symbolize the internal strain that Emma suffers as Madame Bovary. Her ineptitude at common housewifely tasks such as needlework indicates Emma's aptitude at other ways of being. She is not meant to be trapped in living as a bourgeois housewife. Like Chopin's Edna, she orchestrates her own freedom by death.

On her journey towards this, Emma manifests her incompetence into her cultural role by means of needlework, as noted above. Even during her education as a girl, she frequently pricks her finger, showing that she has little talent in the art of womanhood, as expected of her. Although somewhat trivial when compared to Edna's inability to envision herself as sacrificing her life for husband or children, it is nonetheless equally symbolic of Emma's inner need for something more fulfilling than a life of servitude to family.

Although Emma has indeed been educated in the society she is expected to serve as a True Woman, in contrast to Edna, this further highlights her inner need to be more than what is expected of her. She longs to spread her wings and externalize her desire to free herself from her life of servitude.

Like Edna, she attempts to do this with a choice of partners other than her husband. Society however cannot allow her to do this, and the ultimate outcome is her own death. Even in this final triumph, however, Emma is oppressed by the society that causes her death. Significantly, she is buried in her wedding dress; the ultimate symbol of her oppression and the inability of escape. Whereas Edna was able to leave society behind her in meeting her death at sea, Emma is not even provided this small triumph. Instead, her life and death are both unsuccessful in freeing her from oppression. This makes her story somewhat more tragic than that of Edna.

Symbolically, religion, education, and clothing play an important role in both novels. In terms of religion, it is significant that Emma received a convent education. In this, education and religion are closely related in perpetuating the mores of an oppressive society. The convent itself is a reference to the oppression of female desire and passion. The woman is not allowed to realize herself in any form other than servitude to her family. In this way, Emma becomes a type of nun with her husband and family as her… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Madame Bovary the Awakening.  (2009, November 22).  Retrieved July 12, 2020, from

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"Madame Bovary the Awakening."  22 November 2009.  Web.  12 July 2020. <>.

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"Madame Bovary the Awakening."  November 22, 2009.  Accessed July 12, 2020.