Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429
When his wife is dead, Charles sobs and clings to her body. Monsieur Homais tells him that this is all right; it is better to grieve now and get the feelings out. Returning home, Monsieur Homais rushes around to tell people the news and to write an article about Emma’s death. He invents a convenient fiction about accidental poisoning to cover up her suicide.
At first, Charles says he does not want a funeral for his wife. Monsieur Homais makes him see reason, and Charles demands an exorbitantly expensive burial, complete with three expensive coffins and a velvet shroud. Monsieur Homais argues against this as well, but this time Charles gets his way.
The evening before the funeral, many people drop by to visit the grieving widower. The gathering is boring, and everyone keeps waiting for someone else to leave so they can go, too. That night, Monsieur Homais and the priest, Bournisien, attempt to remain awake beside the body. They spend the hours arguing about their respective beliefs regarding God and religion. Charles comes in twice, but each time they send him off to bed, saying that they will watch over Emma while he rests.
Eventually, both Monsieur Homais and Bournisien fall asleep in their chairs. Charles comes into the room a third time, and this time he is free to grieve over his wife's body. She has been dressed in her wedding gown, with the veil lowered. This reminds him of the way she looked in her girlhood and on the day of their wedding. Suddenly he wants to see her face now, and he lifts the veil to look. The sight of Emma’s dead face proves too much for him, and he screams. The other two men wake up and take him out of the room to calm him down.
After this, Charles decides he wants a lock of Emma’s hair to keep. Monsieur Homais is given the job of cutting it, and he does so with shaking hands. Then he and the priest return to their wake. They eat and drink brandy together as they try to stay awake. Their longstanding dislike for each other evaporates as they fill their stomachs.
In the morning, workmen come to build the coffins and shut Emma’s body inside. When that task is complete, the house is opened, and the people of town come in. It is at this point that Monsieur Rouault, Emma’s father, arrives. When he sees the black cloth that symbolizes mourning for Emma’s death, he faints in the street.
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