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If there is anything true and permanent in the novel, it would have to be Charles' devotion to Emma. While Flaubert constructs a vision of reality where individuals are self interested, moving from one conception of the good to another, Charles is extremely devoted to his wife's happiness and his wife, in general. The problem is that Charles does not fit that vision of love that Emma holds. Charles does not fit the Romanticized and passionate vision of love that is in her mind. Charles might be a clod and might be a bit of an oaf, but that does not lessen in any way the love he has for her and the devotion he feels for her.
From the beginning of the novel, Flaubert characterizes Charles as dull, dim, and graceless. The narrator notes that his conversation was 'flat as the sidewalk of the street and the ideas of everyone he spoke to passed through it without exciting emotion, laughter, or contemplation'.... His name suggests his 'bovine,' cud-chewing personality.
Charles never wavers in his commitment to Emma, even though she moves from lover to lover and treats him in a fairly dismissive manner. She spends his money at will and he does not say a word. Charles is so devoted to Emma that he adopts her same perspective on being in the world when she dies, as he becomes as disenchanted with life as she was. In the most bizarre of twists, Flaubert creates Charles to be such a devoted husband that he becomes the worst elements of his wife when she dies, as he "wastes away and dies" at novel's end. A case can be made that while the title reflects Emma, the novel is more about Charles and how some people in the world are condemned to live a life where they love, but never feel as if what it is to feel love.
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