Comparison Between Madame Bovary And The Awakening

Essay, Research Paper

A Comparison between Madame Bovary and The Awakening Centuries ago, in France, Gustave Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary. In 1899, Kate Chopin wrote The Awakening. The years can not separate the books, and the definite similarities that the two show. Madame Bovary is the story of a woman who is not content with her life, and searches for ways to get away from the torture she lives everyday. The Awakening, much like Bovary, features a woman who is unhappy with her life, and wishes to find new adventures. The two books bear very strong similarities to each other, and the plots are almost exactly the same, though there are some subtle differences.Set in two old cities in France, Emma Bovary, the main character in the first book, is not content with her life. She lives in a small town with a husband who is a well off doctor. She is not like many other women though; early in her life, her father sends her to a convent type school so that she can have an education away from the other less desirable parts of society. She is totally sheltered in this holy world. The only glimpse of the world outside the church walls is the one she experiences through romance novels. These books disillusion her and distort her view of the world. She believes that life should be a continuous fantasy in which she spends her life in constant ecstasy, like the women in her novels. “Why couldn’t she be leaning her elbow on the balcony of a Swiss cottage with a husband dressed in a black velvet suit with long coattails, soft boots, a pointed hat, and elegant cuffs.” (60) She is so dissatisfied with her life that she cannot see that she might have happiness, if she only tries to contribute to it. On the other side of the coin, Edna, of The Awakening has the same problem, but not the same circumstances. She grows up in a strict Presbyterian family in Kentucky. She describes herself as walking through life in a half stupor, not totally aware, not totally alive. She finds a man, who “Awakens” the urges that are hidden in the deep recesses of each person’s being, recessed deep inside them. “The present alone was significant; was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with the biting conviction that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded.” (59) A new age begins for both women, a period where they try to find the lives they think are eluding them.The women seem to wander through a sort of haze, looking for something. The something that they both find happens to be a man. Emma stumbles upon her first man in a tavern. He is one of the first things she comes upon in her new town. They have dinner together, and immediately, the two form a bond. Unfortunately-depending on the standpoint you take-the relationship did not work out. Emma was not yet brazen enough, and Leon, the young gentleman with whom she was dumbstruck for, did not wish to advance it because she was married. This situation is matched almost exactly when Edna meets her first “fling” as it were. The circumstances though, are slightly different. Emma knows all her life that she wants a romantic sort of life. Edna does not know what she wants, only that she is bored. Until her “awakening” she just trips through life with no goal. Robert, her first man, is much like Leon, in that he does not wish to advance so strongly on a married woman. A friend of his, Madame Ratignolle, gives him this advice. “If your attentions to any married woman here were ever offered with any intention of being convincing, you would not be the gentleman we all know you to be, and you would be unfit to associate with the wives and daughters of the people who trust you.” (26)

The first set of men aside, the second set of men that the women take to be their companions-Rodolphe to Emma and Arobin to Edna-are not nearly as apprehensive as their first friends. “He did not answer, except to continue to caress her. He did not say good night until she had become supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties.” (123) Arobin, as shown by the previous quote, was not shy in the least. The same can be said of Rodolphe. A new stage of their affairs capitalizes with the two men, who give a new, never before seen dimension of intimacy to their lives.One of the most outstanding examples of a comparison is that of the death scenes. A death scene in itself is nothing extraordinary. These two death scenes, though not incredibly similar, are similar enough to merit discussion. The two books both end in a death. Emma Bovary’s death is a horrid one, of agony, vomiting, writhing in pain, and all in all, a hellish torture. She takes arsenic to commit suicide because of the debt she had worked herself into. On the other hand, Edna does not die violently, or painfully; her death is something of a peaceful end to a lost existence. Her death was romantic and ironic-like something Emma would have wanted-that could have been thought of by the authors of Emma’s time. She strips, and enters into the sea, and swims until she can swim no more, and dies in the sea. “She thought of Leonce and the children. They were part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.” (152) She ended her life the way she-though she thought much more like a child then-wanted too, not the way others want her too. She dies, in her eyes anyway, free.The Awakening and Madame Bovary are both tales of women who are not content with their surrounding, because of some outside force. In fact, the plots of both books are uncannily similar, if not disturbingly similar. Though there is some originality in the Awakening, one can not help but wonder if it was not modeled after the French classic. That is not for us to question, because both were written many decades ago becoming age-old classics. The question can never be asked of the authors; the similarities can merely only be discussed.


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