Explain Félicité's religious beliefs and behavior in A Simple Heart.

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In the character of Félicité Barette, Gustave Flaubert presents a woman who spends decades of faithful service to the Aubain family and increasingly retreats into her own world of religious devotion. Félicité apparently had little religious education while growing up on a farm and so has acquired it along with...

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In the character of Félicité Barette, Gustave Flaubert presents a woman who spends decades of faithful service to the Aubain family and increasingly retreats into her own world of religious devotion. Félicité apparently had little religious education while growing up on a farm and so has acquired it along with young Virginie Aubain while accompanying her to church. Félicité, who was jilted at age 18, invests her emotional energies in other people’s children—that is, her nephew Victor and the Aubains.

Virginie’s illness, during which Félicité prays for a miracle, and death seem to spark the beginning of the eccentric views that Félicité develops. She later becomes devoted to a parrot, Loulou, that Madame Aubain gives her. When the parrot dies, she has him stuffed and sets up an altar in his honor. Convinced that Loulou represents the Holy Spirit, she spends hours at this altar and becomes a devotee of the Corpus Christi holiday.

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Flaubert is deliberate in his construction of Felicite's religious belief and behavior.  It starts off very small in how Felicite learns about religion and Christianity.  She begins learing it with Virginie, innocent as a child in attempting to gain a better understanding of her own spiritual dimensions.  This growth and maturation evolves over the course of the short story.  Once Felicite is introduced to religion and spirituality, it becomes the focus of her life, almost as if she recognizes her past as configured by religion and her future as being guided by it.  Felicite understands more of her religious identity when Virginie dies, through which she uses her religion to maintain a vigil by the body, prepare the body for burial, and to maintain the grave in a respectful and reverential manner.  Felicite's compassion and transcendent sense of love is one guided by her religious identity, almost as if she has surrendered herself to this higher force.  It is in this where Loulou the parrot becomes an embodiment of spirituality in Felicite's own mind, to the point where the stuffed bird gives her peace in transcendence as she dies.  Felicite's religious love and passion is what Flaubert believes is "the answer" for human beings.  Surrounded and immersed in a world full of despair and pain, Flaubert sees religious love such as what Felicite displays as representing the only way in which humans can retort to a cold and cruel world.  It is here where Felicite's belief in religion is shown to be something that represents the best examples of an end to which a human being can aspire, and why Flaubert has developed her character in such a manner.

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