, Research Paper
For Lack of a Better Man
Gustave Flaubert presents one extreme side of human life many would very much rather think does not exist. He presents a tale of sensual symbolism within the life of Charles Bovary. Madame Bovary is the story of Emma Bovary, but within the scope of symbolic meaning, the make-up of Charles is addressed. It is representative of deep sadness and a despondent outlook on life whose many symbols are, at times, as deeply embedded in the story line as a thorn in a callous heel. The elements making up the very person of Charles Bovary remain excruciatingly evident, haunting his every move.
Symbolic of his yearning for inner fulfillment, Charles Bovary presents to be a man in search of an unknown sensual satisfaction. It is no wonder, with the detailed writing the French government attempted to censor Flaubert when Madame Bovary was published in 1856. Although the vast majority of theorems penned revolve about the life of Emma, the character of Charles requires examining.
In the opening scenes, Charles Bovary is seen entering a favorite “dive” of escape, an escape from the realities of life. The caf?s he frequented appear as “dirty public rooms” (Flaubert 834) housing his passion for the game of dominoes. His obsession and pleasure from this simple entertainment are exposed as Flaubert describes Charles entrance into the den of dominoes. “[His esteem] was beginning to see life, the sweetness of stolen pleasures; and when he entered, he put his hand on the door handle with a joy almost sensual” (Flaubert 834). What, other than a profound uneasiness within his personal life, could bring about so explicit a pleasure from the entering to a dark, dank room?
Charles’ life as a student of medicine is one of avoidance. His lack of sincerity and devotion is shown via the “mother hen” role, which his mother took in excusing his inadequacies. His insincerity and hypocrisy is indicative of one with no foresight. He lives now, exists now, and thinks now, not of what is to come, but of what is now. The author explains how he grew passive toward his presumed goal: medicine. In the beginning, he would miss one lecture in a day. Then, the next day, he would miss all lectures. Eventually, because of his inner thirst for self-satisfaction, he would become idle to the point he would give up work altogether (Flaubert 834).
Charles is a grown man. He is a student of medicine. Yet, he has his mother making justifications for him. “She excused him, threw the blame on his failure on the injustice of the examiners, and took upon herself to set matters straight” (Flaubert 834). Is it no wonder, with a character flaw such as this maternal control, later in the story adultery and betrayal would plague his marriage? On the one hand, there is Charles who is excused and exhaulted by his mother. His father, five years later and on learning the truth, expresses how he could not believe that one born of him could be such a fool (Flaubert).
Conversely, there is Emma. Emma has her decision made on her behalf by her father the day of Charles’ last visit before the engagement. Flaubert represents the affirmative answer to Charles’ alleged proposal by the banging of the shutter as her father turns and walks toward the house. She is, we can only assume, ready to be the wife of a doctor, it making no difference his lack of expertise as a physician, not to mention his lack of masculinity.
Charles is a pitiful sight to see. His rebellious nature toward the attaining of the goal of “physician,” as obviously prescribed by his parents, is directly related to Flaubert’s rebellion toward France in relation to enforced censorship. The mandatory overseeing of literature, and limitations thereof, are of prime importance when digesting Madame Bovary.
The many symbolism methods commonly referred to within Madame Bovary are still obviously there. There is the wedding in the pasture where Emma is forced to stop to remove litter from her dress. The obstacles of her future happiness lie beneath her fringe. She is said to stop to raise the hem of her dress, and carefully, with her gloved hands, to pick off the wild grasses (Flaubert). Her happiness falls by the wayside. The plaster priest falls and breaks symbolic of Charles’ future failures in his wonderful world of medicine. Furthermore, this is directing the reader toward the eventual demise of the marriage.
Nevertheless, it is the continued usage by Flaubert of sexual innuendoes and expressive words that bring one to realize France may very well have been correct in its attempt to censor. To understand an author is to read between the lines, then draw conclusions. My conclusion is that Flaubert uses specific scenes to symbolize his flamboyance toward being bawdy. “Sometimes she would draw; and it was great amusement to Charles to stand there, bolt upright and watch her bend over her paper, with eyes half-closed the better to see her work” (Flaubert 856). The better to see her work? Perhaps in the eyes of a creator, ones’ cleavage can be considered “work.”
Although it is talent that allows a writer to use and coordinate symbolic meanings within his works toward a specific goal, the plainspoken truth is more easily ingested and digested. There is merit in the skilled stating of ideals, symbolism in place, without making ones’ audience uncomfortable. However, within the pages of Madame Bovary lie a continuous excess of implication, insinuation, and suggestion.
Flaubert, G. Madame Bovary. 1859.