Religous Commentary In Lit. Essay, Research Paper
Often in literature, both modern and classic, authors take the persona of one or more of their characters. Writers do this to portray to the audience their personal perspective on a controversial aspect of their own contemporary setting. A common issue tackled in a variety of different time periods and genres is religion, a controversial subject worldwide since its conception. From this perspective, Duong Thu Huong s Paradise of the Blind and Gustave Flaubert s Madame Bovary are very different novels, since Madame Bovary is from nineteenth century Western Europe, while Paradise of the Blind is from present day Vietnam. Authorial religious commentary is a common thread that links both of these novels together. However, Huong s and Flaubert s novels both contain lots of negative authorial commentary on their respective religious practices and the religions themselves perhaps because the authors themselves are skeptical about their particular beliefs and motives.
Duong Thu Huong implies in Paradise of the Blind that in order for women to succeed and thrive in Vietnamese society, they must break free from the constraints of their confining religion and religious customs. Aunt Tam is the embodiment of this theory. The festivals, the ceremonies, even Tet- they didn t exist for me anymore (Huong 78). In a culture where ceremonies and festivals are key parts to a very strict religion, completely ignoring these holidays would be viewed as Tam turning her back on her religion in order to achieve what she wants:
In fact, to live like you do is really happiness. The whole village dreams of having this: a nice house, a granary full of rice, money in the bank. Calm, peaceful days far from all the sound and fury (152).
Eventually, aunt Tam makes the money she wants. Ironically she becomes a very well respected woman in the village even though she desisted from her sacred duties for the sake of worldly possessions.
Aunt Tam ultimately becomes the success she is through ignoring the religious duties she has to pursue her worldly obligations. This shows the constraints religion cause on the people in Vietnam. Though once Aunt Tam makes her fortune, she is renewed in religious devotion. Even if Aunt Tam does not totally abandon her religion, the period when she started to fall away from it was when she starts to build up her value.
Huong uses a thematic approach to further support her theory. At the end of the novel, the future looks optimistic for Hang and it appears that she will be successful on her own. The only way she accomplishes this is by neglecting her sacred duties to Aunt Tam:
Comets extinguish themselves, but memory refuses to die, and hell s money has no value in the market of life. Forgive me, my aunt: I m going to sell this house and leave all this behind. We can honor the wishes of the dead with a few flowers on a grave somewhere. I can t squander my life tending these faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of past crimes (258).
This shows that Hang sees the flawed extensive religious customs and is ready to move on with her life. Duong Thu Huong uses Hang as her final statement about the validity of all of the excessive religious formalities surrounding the Vietnamese culture.
Like Duong Thu Huong, Gustave Flaubert uses his characters to portray his opinions on Catholicism. However, Flaubert uses a more straightforward, direct style to introduce his religious commentary. Also different from Huong, Flaubert basically uses one of his characters to criticize religion directly. This character in Madame Bovary is Homais. Like Huong, Flaubert also condemns religion through thematic context. Flaubert uses a more forthright style in his religious critique.
Gustave Flaubert sets up Homais as a religious skeptic to provide Flaubert the medium to convey his opinions on the matter. Our first view of Homais is when he is denouncing the local priest. His refusal to accept a drink struck him as the most odious kind of hypocrisy; all priests were secret guzzlers, and they were all trying to bring back the days of the tithe (Flaubert 66).
Homais then goes on to say, I have my own religion, and I m a lot more religious than all those priests with their ludicrous ceremonies and their hypocrisy (67). Toward the closing of the novel when Homais begins to have more public power, he denounces the church publicly: always guided by love or progress and hatred of the clergy. He made comparisons between the public and religious schools, to the detriment of the latter (298). All in all, many times in Madame Bovary it is evident that Flaubert takes on the persona of Homais.
In addition to using Homais to mock the clergy, he uses the priest himself to mock the customs and the religious institution of the Catholic Church. Flaubert uses the scene with the catechism class to show how wrong things are done in the church. The priest suddenly burst upon them and dealt out slaps all around (98). This is supposed to represent the intolerance of the Catholic Church at this time. The priest is also mocking religion when he is visiting Hippolyte.
What s to prevent you from saying an Ave Maria and the Lord s Prayer in the morning and at night, just as a precaution? Yes, you can do that! Do it as a favor to me. It s not hard. Will you promise? (156)
This is a mocking tone towards Hippolyte and suggests that the only reason for prayer is just a precaution against going to Hell. Flaubert also shows the priest abandoning Charles after a week of support after Emma s death.
He was seen going into the church every evening for a week. Father Bournisien called on him two or three times, then abandoned him. The priest was drifting into intolerance, into fanaticism, said Homais (299).
This shows that the priest does not genuinely care about the welfare of Charles and is as ambitious as the next man. In summary, Flaubert uses the priest as an example of how Catholicism is corrupt.
In short, both Duong Thu Huong and Gustave Flaubert share similar views on very different religious situations. Huong is subtle in her criticism which is appropriate given her setting. Contrarily, Flaubert is blunt and obvious in his condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church, which is also appropriate since it is the start of the realism movement in France. Huong is simply trying to state that religion in Vietnam is a constraint for women. Flaubert takes it to another level by questioning the entire institution. All in all, Duong Thu Huong and Gustave Flaubert are taking advantage of their talent in writing to express their opinions on contemporary social issues such as religion.