The Theme of Change in Madame Bovary

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The Theme of Change in Madame Bovary

Change is a central theme in the novel Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, and is key to understanding the character of Emma Bovary. Through parallel events the reader comes to realize that Emma's need for change is the result of the influence her early life had upon her. At the convent Emma is left to develop into an extreme romantic with high hopes for excitement and dreams of sensuous pleasures that will never be fulfilled. Thus, when life refuses to conform to her romantic notions Emma alternates between various activities in her constant search for a way to consummate her romantic longings.

As a young girl from the country Emma is placed into a convent in the city. Here Emma develops and receives nourishment for her already sentimental soul. She looks upon "copper crosses," the "sick lamb" and the "mystic ...altar" with the vigor of a scholar on a quest for knowledge. She listens intently "to the sonorous lamentation of romantic melancholy" which "awakened unexpected joys within her." Emma, being isolated from the outside world, is left alone to develop her capricious dreams that she reads about in novels, gaining the hope of someday fulfilling these romantic and passionate desires. Emma devours books that involve "romantic woes, oaths, sobs, tears and kisses...gentlemen brave as lions, gentle as lambs" and always "impossibly virtuous."

Due to Emma's isolation from everyday living she develops the need for excitement and as a result cannot endure her own married life. Life with Charles simply does not fit the fictionalized accounts she reads of. Thus Emma turns to the comforts of adultery and when passion is not readily available she will resor...

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...t look on Leon realistically without seeing all his human imperfections. In which case she soon tires of him, as he does her. As her relationship with Leon progresses she also comes to understand that the lover she dreams of is a "man whose worldly existence [is] impossible."

As the result of her childhood Emma Bovary spends her entire life in an attempt to escape her middle-class existence by dreams, love affairs and false pretensions. Emma constantly changes her activities, her surroundings and her love situations in a desperate attempt to grasp the fairy tales she entombed in her soul as a child. Although she longed for the superficial and materialistic Emma Bovary was one who ended her life without ever compromising her vision of something greater than she.

Flaubert, Gustav. Madame Bovary (Lowell Bair, trans.). New York: Bantam Books 1996

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