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Emma Bovary - Searching for Oranges on Apple Trees?

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To state that Emma Bovary, the heroine of Flaubert's epic Madame Bovary, looks for oranges on apple trees and refuses to eat apples is a gross over-simplification. Emma would be no happier with oranges than she would be with apples. In fact, if her taste in fruit is anything like her taste in men, she would probably insist on a fruit with all of her desired qualities - perhaps a cross between the consistency of an apple, the fibre of an orange, the vitamins of a blackcurrant and the taste of a strawberry. In saying this, however, the statement is entirely accurate in that Emma is searching for the wrong things in the wrong places and is bitterly disappointed in not finding them as she desires.

To analyse Emma Bovary is a difficult assignment, due to the very complex and often contradictory nature of her character, and the many opposing critical theories that have been written since her 'death' over 150 years ago. Flaubert's determination to "remain outside of his book and to assume the role of a manipulator of marionettes" adds to this sense of mystery surrounding Emma Bovary, who is essentially a confused young woman, trapped in a stifling society who tries so desperately to be something she is not. She is a woman so fixated on creating the life she dreams of that she eventually self-destructs, a broken and dejected victim.

Before discussing in detail the various elements of her personality, it is necessary to highlight the social position she is involuntarily placed in. This will in turn give rise to, and in many cases explanation for, the way in which she responds to various events in her life, and therein revealing her true colours.

Emma is born a woman in France during the early 19th Century, and as such is doomed from the start to be a victim of the misogynistic bourgeoisie. As was the case for all women at the time, Emma was completely reliant on Charles to provide the quality of life she desired - and indeed her very identity - as she was not in a position that she could exercise such control herself. In marrying Charles, she ceased to exist as Mademoiselle Emma Rouault, and simply became Madame Charles Bovary, the doctor's wife. Emma realised that she had blown her only chance to pursue the life she felt she deserved. "Pourquoi, mon Dieu! me suis-je mariйe?" Emma feels so strongly that life would be better had she been born male, that when she is pregnant she hopes for a boy. "Cette idйe d'avoir pour enfant un mвle йtait comme la revanche en espoir de toutes ses impuissances passйes. Un homme, au moins, est libre." Her reaction to Charles' gleeful announcement of a young girl is indicative of the strength of her disappointment. "Elle accoucha un dimanche, vers six heures, au soleil levant. 'C'est une fille!' dit Charles. Elle tourna la tкte et s'йvanouit."

Emma is often depressed and confused throughout the novel. She snaps at Charles over nothing, for example at the ball at Vaubyessard, she complains that he is creasing her dress when he bends down to kiss her cheek. She repeatedly pushes her innocent daughter away, and goes for long periods without even bothering to dress or interact with other people. Her profligate spending is in many ways an attempt to stifle this depression with beautiful objects, such as the trinkets she buys simply because the ladies in Rouen have bought them. This spending continues to worsen, with Emma borrowing larger sums at higher interest rates from M. Lhereux as the novel goes on.

Emma's various methods of coping with her stifled existence have been widely viewed as immoral and selfish, as indeed they are. They are not, however, consciously evil. The main motivating factor behind Emma's adultery, profligate spending and self-obsession is her desire to lead the life she dreams of. She does not intend to hurt Charles or Berthe, as can be seen by her spasmodic yet genuine attempts to become a good mother and loving wife. She simply cannot shake the deep conviction that she deserves a life of mystery, romance and excitement like those she reads and dreams of so often. During Part Three, however, Emma becomes more and more of an accomplished liar and causes huge pain and suffering through her actions.

Emma is a prolific reader of romance novels, Ðo la Mills and Boon, such as Paul et Virginie. This reading, and the dreaming that follows, is the underlying reason behind her every action. In trying to get everything, Emma ends up with nothing. She is so determined to fill an empty space inside her that she neglects to see the beauty that exists all around her. An example of this is Emma's constant lamenting of Charles' lack of genius and clumsiness, which turns to outright disgust after the dismal failure of the clubfoot operation. "Elle fixait sur Charles la pointe ardente de ses prunelles, comme deux flиches de feu prкtes Ðo partir." In all of this complaining, she fails to ever notice Charles' good points, such as the way he unfailingly adores her, his generosity with money and the freedom he permits her, of a far greater extent than most housewives of the period.

Emma expects men to measure up to her impossibly high standards, not dissimilar to her standards for every other aspect in her life, to such an extent that there has been a psychological condition named after her. "Le



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