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Madame Bovary

“Death always brings with it kind of stupefaction, so difficult is it for the human mind to realize and resign itself to the blank and utter nothingness.” As chillingly stated by Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, the ominous concept of death has always aroused fear and a sense of uncertainty in mankind. Some merely view it as the reluctant destination where all paths must eventually meet, while the more idealistic individuals hail it as the majestic closing of the curtains after a lively, glorious show. However, nearly all people perceive death as the lurking, merciless shadow that gradually fades the dazzling colors and spectacles of each beauteous life into a permanent, echoing darkness, a darkness that is universally dreaded and feared.

Emma Bovary viewed death in an entirely different light. For her, it did not symbolize a painful loss or a regretful end, but the complete opposite: a new beginning, a fresh escape, and a mysterious, morbidly exotic world she yearned to join. However, she did not always have such a state of mind. In the course of only a few years, she underwent a deadly metamorphosis that transformed a sheltered, naïve farm girl, full of eager anticipation to experience the world, to a manipulative, emotionally-needy housewife who learned to entice man after man into a trap of frenzied adultery, endless lies, and artificial romance.

Her story begins when Charles Bovary, a middle-class doctor, asks for Emma's hand in marriage on a medical visit to her father's farm. Imagining an unrealistically extravagant life, she quickly accepts his offer and becomes Madame Bovary within a matter of weeks. She is soon crushed to find that married life is not nearly like what she had predicted, as Charles's modest lifestyle is entirely devoid of excitement, wealth, and frivolities. Though he clearly loves her, she soon becomes dissatisfied with his quiet, simple affection and begins to long for an escape from the banality of day-to-day bourgeois living.

Emma's life is completely transformed when her husband is visited by a wealthy landowner named Rodolphe Boulanger for a medical appointment. With one brief glance at Emma, he decides that she is “ripe for seduction” and within days, Emma is effortlessly won over by Rodolphe's flirtatious behavior, flattering dialogue, and the eventual sweet, doting confession of love that he delivers the very next night, which had been coldly calculated and planned beforehand. Emma's marriage with Charles slowly begins deteriorate as her infatuation with Rodolphe grows; the more emotionally attached she becomes to him, the more irritable and impatient she becomes with Charles, who is bewildered but does not once question his wife's faithfulness.
She begins indulging herself with material goods and excessive finery, spending money lavishly and becoming increasingly careless with finances. Emma finally wakes up to reality when she discovers that the debt she owes will permanently ruin her if she does not find a way to pay it. Realizing the gravity of her situation, Emma turns to Rodolphe, frantically insisting that he take her away so they can elope. Irritated by her clinginess and persistent emotional needs, Rodolphe carelessly ends the relationship with a hastily written, self-excusing note and then disappears. Betrayed and devastated, Emma begins to have wild affairs that she barely tries to conceal with various men, attempting to satiate her physical desires as well as to find a man to support her financially. When man after man refuses her plea for money, she attempts prostitution and even then is faced with rejection.
In a final act of desperation, Emma seduces the manservant Justin into giving her the key to the medicine cabinet, where she extracts a bottle of arsenic. In a crazed trance of despair, helplessness, and self-hatred, she hastily swallows the contents of the bottle, romanticizing about a brief, painless suicide but is aghast when she realizes that she must first experience excruciating pain and then die a slow, agonizing death. Charles soon arrives at the scene, and when he discovers Emma has poisoned herself, he is devastated to the point of emotional breakdown. From that day on, he refuses to speak to anyone and isolates himself from society, condemning himself entirely for her suicide.
As he lives the remainder of his life in a mindless daze, unable to deal with the unbearable pain of losing Emma, he dies only a few weeks later, leaving his newly-orphaned daughter Berthe impoverished, destitute, and without a future. Because she has nowhere else to go, she is eventually sent to a cotton mill where she is forced to spend the rest of her life in poverty, constantly tortured by a deep hatred for the woman who willingly imprisoned her into the life of a peasant, the woman who was the symbol of whispered scandal and marital dishonor, the woman who was the epitome of a self-obsessed, mentally-unstable temptress, and most of all, the woman that she was forced to call her mother: Madame Bovary.




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