In Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, the quest for the sublime and perfect expression seems to be trapped in the inability to successfully verbalize thoughts and interpret the words of others. The relationship between written words and how they are translated into dialogue and action is central in evaluating Emma's actions and fate, and ultimately challenges the reader to look at the intricacies of communication.
Flaubert's portrayal of Emma's reading habits provides the basic framework for evaluating the way she processes information. In the purest representation of Emma's readership, she "picked up a book, and then, dreaming between the lines let it drop on her knees."(43). Flaubert uses reading to establish Emma's short attention span to any thoughts outside of her own. The book falling towards the floor symbolically creates the space for her illusions-- notice Flaubert chooses the word "dreaming" instead of "reading," stressing her imaginative tendencies rather than those of a critical nature. In representing Emma's interpretation skills, her distortion of the material becomes a semi-conscious decision because she chooses to deviate from the original text, but at times her manipulation of words is more accurately described as misinterpretation. When Leon praises the entertainment value of the simplistic novels containing "noble characters, pure affections, and pictures of happiness," she misses his further conclusion that "since these works fail to touch the heart, they miss, it seems to me, the true end of art" (59). The subtext implies that she is incapable of distinguishing differences in the quality of expressions and understandi...
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...ility for the interpretation of the text.
Works Cited and Consulted
Berg, William J. and Laurey K. Martin. Gustave Flaubert. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.
Colet, Louise. Lui: A View of Him. Translated by Marilyn Gaddis Rose. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Translated by Paul de Man. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1965.
Lottman, Herbert. Flaubert. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1989.
Maraini, Dacia. Searching for Emma: Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary. Translated by Vincent J. Bertolini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Nadeau, Maurice. The Greatness of Flaubert. New York: Library Press, 1972.
Steegmuller, Francis. Flaubert and Madame Bovary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.
Troyat, Henri. Flaubert. New York: Viking, 1992.
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