Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492
One day, Monsieur Homais reads about a new medical operation that can cure clubfoot, an inborn deformity that makes a person’s foot grow twisted. Eager to bring scientific advances to Yonville, Monsieur Homais pressures Charles to study this operation and try it out on Hippolyte, a clubfooted man who works as a horse groom at the local hotel. Emma, who feels that she could love Charles if he distinguished himself in his career, supports Monsieur Homais's plan.
Charles is at first reluctant to try operating on Hippolyte, who gets along fine in spite of his disability. However, Emma and Monsieur Homais make him think he can pull off the operation. Eventually he orders some medical books and begins studying the technique. Meanwhile, the whole town gets excited. Everyone works together to persuade Hippolyte to undergo the surgery. In the end, he agrees as well.
On the day of the operation, Charles feels terrified. He makes one small incision, and the surgery is finished. Hippolyte is amazed at how easy it was, and he thanks Charles profusely. Charles and Monsieur Homais then strap Hippolyte’s leg into a homemade box to keep it straight.
For a short time, Charles is the town hero. Monsieur Homais even writes a flowery newspaper article praising Charles for bringing advanced medical techniques to a rural town. In this article, Monsieur Homais predicts that Hippolyte will soon be seen among the dancers at village festivals.
Nothing of the sort occurs. Hippolyte develops gangrene in his leg, and the infection is impossible for Charles and Monsieur Homais to cure. They call in a more experienced doctor, Monsieur Canivet, from a nearby district. Monsieur Canivet shouts about the stupidity of trying “new-fangled ideas from Paris” on a man who was living a healthy and productive life. Then he amputates Hippolyte’s leg.
During the amputation, Charles is afraid to show his face in town. He and Emma sit at home by their unlit fireplace. Inwardly, Charles reflects that he did his absolute best to avoid a problem like this one, and that he had no way of predicting that Hippolyte would develop gangrene. Nevertheless, he is wracked by guilt and terrified that people will blame him for what has happened.
Meanwhile, Emma silently berates herself for having hoped that Charles could amount to anything. She cannot believe that she was actually considering giving up her love and trying to be a better wife to him again. He is clearly worthless, and she resolves not to hold herself back from her love just for the sake of her marriage.
When Charles asks Emma to kiss and comfort him, she shouts at him not to touch her. She storms out of the room in disgust. He is left bewildered, unable to fathom why she would act this way. Rather than blame her, he thinks that she must be sick. She, meanwhile, rushes to find Rodolphe and apologize for her recent coldness.
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