In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, it is difficult to know what to think of Monsieur Binet and his lathe. His constant devotion to such an unrewarding pursuit would seem to act as the bourgeois backdrop to Emma Bovary’s quest for eternal passion and excitement, a polar opposite with which Emma can stand in sharp contrast. However, it turns out that Binet and his lathe have more in common with Emma and her rampant desires than what would first appear obvious. Binet’s lathe still serves as a background with which to compare Emma’s quest for love and riches, but instead of acting as a complete antithesis to everything she does, the lathe is meant to be subtly different from Emma’s quest, and therefore highlights that specific trait.
At first, the lathe appears to represent the opposite of everything Emma strives for in her life. She is constantly looking for new and exciting things to do to make her life more adventurous. Meanwhile, Binet wants no part in this search for deeper fulfillment, instead he spends "Sundays, morning and night, and afternoons, if the weather was bright…bent at his lathe, making [a] monotonous snoring droning noise" (79).1 While the lathe is depicted as being boring, having a sound that would put people asleep, Binet focuses mindlessly on it for hours, the empty escapism it provides seems to be part of what draws him to it.
Although Binet may be drawn to his lathe because of its monotony, it does not seem likely that Emma would find the same type of drudgery in her quest. However, her dreams have much of the same repetitiveness that Binet’s lathe has. This can be seen from an early age in the novels that she reads:
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...riting each sentence of his novel multiple times. The resulting phrases are beautiful, but, as Binet shows us, they would be meaningless if they were not united toward the grand purpose of the novel. In the same light, if we look only at the goal of the novel as a whole, as we could imagine Emma doing, Flaubert’s painstaking work seems like a waste of time, and the artistry put into making each scene beautiful would only seem to get into the way of the overall message. Life will always have its boring parts. But with Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert shows us that the boring parts do not have to be a complete waste; if we put them towards a goal, and remember that they are not merely the means to this goal, these dull parts can be beautiful in their own right.
1. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, trans. Geoffrey Wall (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
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