Madame Bovary Questions and Answers

Gustave Flaubert

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Madame Bovary questions.

How does unfettered subjectivity create the modern conception of tragedy?

One of the most dominant themes in Madame Bovary is the appropriation of the world in accordance to one's own subjectivity. Flaubert shows how modern consciousness is defined through one's own notion of reality and the failure of the modern setting lies in the individual seeking to make this vision a reality. Emma appropriates her world through Romantic notions of the good. This becomes the frame through which she interacts with her world, and the basis of her dreams. This subjectivity becomes her own prison as she becomes crushed by the weight of her own dreams. In his own subjective vision of Emma, Charles suffers the same fate. The ultimate price paid for this desire to appropriate the world in accordance to one's own subjective consciousness is Berthe.

Flaubert was keen in bringing out this Realist condition of reality. Emma becomes crushed by the weight of her own dreams, demonstrating the destructive nature of subjective appropriation of the world. In contrast to the Romantic thinkers, who saw the world as a playground in which one's subjectivity should be unleashed, Flaubert's genius is to illuminate the dark side to this vision. In the end, one recognizes that subjectivity, a realistic condition of the modern setting, has to be limited and tapered in accordance to a variety of circumstances and conditions. Failure to do so can result in personal destruction and the destruction of others around the individual.

What problem does Homais present in a subjective conception of modernity?

The real terror present in the novel might not be with Emma's dreams, Charles's languishing, or how people use one another as means to an end as opposed to an end in their own right. The real terror might exist in the empowerment of individuals who seek to slowly exert their control on the world around them. Homais' ascension is something that Flaubert deliberately notes. The real terror is that while the world in the novel is withering away, Homais consolidates more power. He offers nothing in way of solidarity with other human beings and does little to authentically change the world for the better. Instead, he offers "rational" solutions, is seen as a voice of "reason," and grows in power. While suffering seems to visit everyone else, Homais displays none of the sort. The last line of the novel is telling when Homais "has just received the cross of the Legion of Honour." The terror that exists in the world Flaubert constructed is not that there are Emmas in it. The real terror is that there are people who continue to gain power and control at an alarming rate while so many others are in pain. Homais embodies Flaubert's fear of a technocratic, industrialized, rationalized world. The terror of "the Crystal Palace" is evident in Flaubert's characterization of Homais, who ends up representing how the modern setting is one where people seek to gain power and consolidate it at the cost of others and for their own benefit.