Emma (Bovary) Vs. Meusault(The Stranger) Essay, Research Paper
Emma vs. Meursault
Emma and Meursault were both strangers to society because of passion; Emma needed passion in a society that condemned it while Meursault refused passion in a society that promoted it.
As early as Part I Chapter 5, Flaubert makes it evident that Emma is searching for passion. Before she was married, she mistakenly thought she was in love and therefore agreed to the marriage that could not consummate her desire for a passionate lifestyle. The world Emma lived in was constantly trying to downplay passion, but she was trying to heighten it. The people of Tostes, where Charles and she first lived, would never have understood her need for passion because they only lived to get through the day. They did not have extraordinary dreams of knights and love affairs. Rather, they went to sleep so they could be up early to milk the cow or pluck the chicken. She lived in a dull town where people repeated the same boring duties day after day, and Charles was content to live like this. He did not understand her need for elegance or passion any more than the rest of the people in Tostes. She is portrayed as thoughtless and selfish, but she is really just bored and unlucky. She should have been born into a wealthy family who went to balls every night and lived in Paris. Instead, she was the daughter of a farmer and now the wife of a man who could not even finish medical school. It was not her fault that she needed passion; she was born that way. She was born with many gifts: her beauty, her musical sense, her intelligence, and her emotional depth. However, she could not use any of these gifts in Tostes or Yonville, their second place of residence. The poor woman needs passion to survive, and when it is not provided, she becomes physically ill. Flaubert even says, “She wanted both to die and live in Paris.” (Page 52) There was nothing interesting in her life, so she might as well have been dead. Charles was as good as dead, for he was about as boring. Emma was not a terrible person; she was just unfortunate. She had married someone who would never be able to fulfill her desires. It was not her fault that Charles was dull, and it was not his either. After they move to Yonville, she meets Leon, a young man who is filled with the same need for passion as she has. She inwardly knows that he could fulfill her needs and desires, but she is scared of letting him know because she is married. She knows that their love is true, but she realizes that it would be terrible to perform adultery. After he leaves, she realizes that no matter how big a crime it was, she should have been an adulteress because at least she would have been passionate and that is all she really needs. She frets over him and, instead of doing anything to ease her pain, she mopes. “And now he was gone, her only pleasure in life, her only possible hope of happiness! Why hadn’t she seized that happiness when it offered itself to her?” (Page 107) Because she has seen what love can feel like, she now needs it more than ever. Therefore, when Rodolphe comes along, she is eager to enter into a love affair with him in order to fill her needs. Love is not the only passion she needs, however. Although it seems like love is the only passion she seeks out through the whole book, she seeks others as well. She looks for any passion she can find: sadness, jealousy, anger, desire, anything.
Meursault, instead of looking for passion, as Emma does, refuses it. He hides from it at all costs. If Emma had been living Meursault’s life, she would have had an extremely passionate affair with Marie, instead of his indifference towards her. Emma would have made a great scene out of Salamano losing his dog where Meursault simply told him what the pound does. Meursault hides from the passionate side of every relationship he has. He didn’t even cry at his mother’s funeral. He did not have emotions as the rest of his society did, and they blamed him for it. It was not his fault that he could not feel emotions. Meursault let his earthly senses control everything he did. On the day of his mother’s funeral, he was too hot and too tired to even care what was going on. On the last day of the trial, he is sweating and therefore cannot pay attention to what is going on around him. When asked if his lawyer’s closing statement was good, he agrees, “but my congratulations weren’t sincere because I was too tired.” (Page 105) His lawyer just made the speech that is going to determine his life or his death, but he was too tired to even pay attention. Emma’s earthly senses are controlled by her emotional state, while Meursault controls whether or not he feels emotions at all based on his earthly state, whether he be tired, hungry, content, etc. Meursault’s society was one that emphasized emotion. They could not understand why he had not cried at his own Maman’s funeral or why, when Marie asked if he loved her, he “told her it didn’t mean anything but [he] didn’t think so.” (Page 35) He is portrayed as mean and unfeeling by the press and people surrounding his trial, including the prosecutor, but he is really just a normal guy. He simply cannot feel emotions beyond annoyance, irritation, and boredom. He needs a woman just like every other man, and he loves to talk with people, and he seems very agreeable. However, he does not feel emotions. Celeste almost cries on the stand defending him, and Meursault does not even react. He seems indifferent to the rest of the world and what is going on around him. He is not a stranger to his society by accident, it seems like, although he wants them to like him and understand him, he sees that they cannot, and therefore stays a stranger and does not complain. He almost likes being a stranger.
Although Emma and Meursault are opposite personalities, they are both strangers to society because of passion and emotions. Emma needs these to survive, and Meursault does not have these, or, if he does, he hides from them. Emma’s society was like Meursault and Meursault’s society was like Emma. They should have been switched and they would have fit in perfectly into the society around them. They are alike in more than one way, however. Emma looks for earthly objects to compensate for her alienation, as does Meursault. Meursault tries to compensate with sex, food, and wine. Emma tries to compensate with material items she buys from Lheurex as well as sensual pleasures. They both try to use sex to compensate for their alienation from the society they live in. The two must feel that it will bring them closer to the society that they are alienated from because it is the one thing all people have in common. Although they are alienated, they both also seem to make friends very easily, Emma because of her beauty and Meursault because of his agreeability. Both are strangers to society who have different problems with passion that alienate them from the world.