Madame Bovary Essay Research Paper Striving for

Madame Bovary Essay, Research Paper

Striving for higher social status has been the downfall of many people just as it was the destruction of Emma Bovary. In Nineteenth Century France, several class existed: peasant or working class, middle class, upper-middle class, bourgeois, and aristocrats. In the story, “Madame Bovary,” we see a number of individuals striving to move themselves up to the bourgeois, a status that is higher than the working class but not as high as nobility. The bourgeois are characterized by being educated and wealthy but unlike the aristocracy, they earned their money through hard work and kept it through frugality (Britannica).

Our bourgeois strivers in “Madame Bovary” kept up

appearances but they would never quite make it to the full rank

of bourgeois. Because the level of one’s social class status is

determined so much by appearances, an individual can keep up a

good front and be accepted into the circle when they are out of

town where no-one knows the truth. Both Emma and Homais followed

this practice in their pursuits to really belong. “Madame Bovary”

is about a sense of self, a search for personal identity and

reality versus illusion. The symbolism throughout the story is

clearly indicative of this fact (Nadiau 136).

Charles Bovary moves between two classes: working and

middle. He comes from a middle class home but he does not seem to

care what his social status is. Both his mother and his wife, on

the other hand, want to move up in class status. His second wife,

Emma Bovary becomes obsessed with becoming part of the bourgeois

and is sorely disappointed when she finds she has married a man

that might have the potential to do so but lacks the ambition


Charles, at the urging of his mother, an upper-middle class

woman, attends medical school, which will give him the means by

which to move into the bourgeois, but it takes him two attempts

to pass. Undaunted, his mother, the elder Madame Bovary, who

believes she can change her own class status thorough her son’s

success, sets up a medical practice for him in the rural town of

Tostes. Since he is the only physician in the town, his success

should be assured. Mother Bovary also arranges a marriage to a

widow she believes is wealthy with an already established social

standing. However, Madame Dubuc is a fake. Still, Madame Dubuc,

who is bourgeois in behavior and idealism, but who is middle

class in reality, helps Charles give the appearance of a higher

class standing by expertly managing his finances and teaching him

how to dress and speak. Madame Duboc believes that her husband’s

patients can help them move up in status. The introduction of Monsieur Roualt encourages the new wife; he is a rich farmer, part of the upper-middle class; in her mind, this patient can aid in her efforts to move up the social ladder. As we see, the relationship between Charles and Roualt backfires because seemingly rich farmer isn’t so rich and because Charles becomes infatuated with Roualt’s daughter, Emma.

Madame Dubuc dies never having realized her dream of moving

into the bourgeoisie. Emma, as the new Madame Bovary, becomes

even more acutely aware of class differences when they attend an

affair at the Marquis d’Andervilliers estate. Here, in the

company of the rich, she sees the bourgeois life she wants and

believes she deserves. She becomes so unhappy with her life, she

becomes ill. Charles moves them to Yonville, a city, but her life

is still not transformed as she wants it (

Emma’s obsession with the bourgeois and her realization that

her husband is never going to move up, sends her in search of a

pseudo-bourgeois life by borrowing money to buy the latest

fashions, hiring a “ladies” maid and having affairs with men who

are of the higher social class (Ringrose 7).

After Emma’s suicide, Charles is so distraught nothing

matters, he becomes even less ambitious, if that were possible,

he becomes impoverished and he slips into the working class

(Brombert 36).

Rodolphe Boulanger, a gentleman, owns the estate, La Huchet.

He is the man of Emma’s dreams and becomes her first lover. He

belongs to the country gentry but he is a scoundrel and an

opportunist. He is manipulative, shallow, and cold-hearted. Emma is nothing more than a “conquest” to him and he throws her away when he tires of her. His social status remains constant throughout the story (

Lestiboudois, the Yonville cemetery caretaker is an example

of the peasant or working class. His job involves phsysical labor

and the type of work does not earn him much respect. He earns

little money, even though his two jobs gives him double earnings

from each death in town. He earns extra money from taking

other jobs, including caring for the gardens at principal

gardens, including the Bovarys’. Lestiboudois’ remains in the same social class status throughout the story (Flaubert).

Monsieur Homais, the pharmacist, does change his status

during the novel. He begins in the upper-middle class but aspires

to move into the bourgeois. He finally succeeds in his quest when

he receives the “Legion of Honor” medal (p. 303). Prior to that

auspicious occasion, Homais does everything he can to give the

appearance of being bourgeois. Remember his initial meeting with

the Bovarys – he was wearing “green leather slippers and a velvet

fez with a gold tassel” (p. 879). In his conversations he

consistently attempts to make himself look better than he is. He

is the one who convinced Charles to perform surgery on

Hippolyte’s club foot. This act was not out of compassion for

Hippolyte, but rather, he thought it would give him a great story

for the newspaper and gain him more fame (Flaubert 878).

Homais even names his children after “great men, illustrious

deeds or noble ideas”. Homais may look the part, and the

prestigious award may even give him an even greater appearance of

the bourgeoisie, but he will never really be part of that status

(Flaubert 880).

Flaubert’s attitude toward Madame Bovary and her world is

ambiguous. He generally treats her with contempt and a bit of

irony. She reflects romanticism and striving to better herself.

These contradictions, leave the reader feeling sympathetic

towards her one minute, and feeling pity or disgust for the next

Based on the evidence presented in previous pages, it is concluded that Flaubert saw Madame Bovary’s world as being in the middle-class. She was never able to move to the bourgeois no matter how hard she tried or what ruses she used to give the appearance of being there. Although there is at least one character representing each of the social classes, most of the characters belong to the middle and upper-middle class society.

Works Cited

Primary source

Flaubert, Gustave. “Madam Bovary.” Vol I of The Norton Anthology of

World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack, et al. 6th ed. 2 vols. New

York, Norton 1985: 1991.

Secondary sources

Brombert, Victor. “Madame Bovary: The Tragedy of Deams.” Gustave

Flaubert. Ed. Bloom, Harold. New York: Chelsa House Publishers,

1966. 23-43.

Nadeau, Maurice. The Greatness of Flaubert. New York: The Library

Press, 1972. 134-137.

Unknown. “Overview: Madam Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.”

Unknown. “Social Class.”


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