In addition to her affairs with Rodolphe and Leon, Emma Bovary accumulates a crushing amount of debt. What, in your opinion, leads Emma to spend so lavishly and borrow so unwisely?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emma's desire to spend so lavishly come from a fundamental discontent with the reality in which she finds herself.  Flaubert constructs Emma in the most Realist of ways, one in which she is literally crushed by the weight of her own dreams.  In her marriage to Charles, Emma finds that the reality of daily life in marriage does not match the vision she had in her mind, the dreams of opulence and splendor that she envisioned her life to represent.  In this desire to create in reality what exists in her subjectivity, Emma turns to spending lavishly.  She believes that money and things, as she later believes the same about extramarital affairs, will provide the supplement to what is lacking in her life.  Flaubert, as the narrator, notes this:

[Emma is] confused, in her longing, the sensual appeals of luxury with the joys of the heart, elegance of manners with delicacy of sentiment.

It is this "sensual appeal of luxury" that drives Emma to spend lavishly.  Emma does this in pursuit of a dream that will never be materialized, but she fails to realize this.  There is no fiscal responsibility or a sense of financial conservatism in Emma's spending because she is not operating in the constructs of daily life, in which such habits with money are cultivated.  Rather, Emma spends in pursuit of a dream, in pursuit of what is in her mind, of what she things can and should be.  In this refusal to accept reality, Emma spends and it is in this doing that she ends up being crushed by the weight of her dreams.

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Madame Bovary

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