Dr. Satler’s comments: This student’s paper displays the radiance of writing kindled by discriminating reading. His careful attention to words and their subtle tones in context translate into interpretive language that clarifies the subtle shapes of meaning.
The abyss that so terrifies Emma in Madame Bovary is reality and the crushing finality of it. The fantasy world that she has constructed from early childhood takes on more and more substance until it becomes her alternate reality. True reality is still there for her, but it exists as a shadow of the substance of her fantasies. When she is confronted by reality, in any form that threatens her fantasy world, she perceives it as an abyss opening before her.
Throughout the book, we see Emma creating her fantasy world and insulating herself from the harsh light of reality. The disillusionment with her marriage and the exposure to the glamour of Vaubyessard is a major building block in this fantasy world. Flaubert tells us that "her journey to Vaubyessard had made a gap in her life," and although "she was resigned" to her marriage and life with Charles, "something had rubbed off on [her heart] that could not be removed" (p. 40). We are told that from this point on that the memory of the ball at Vaubyessard "became an occupation" for her. Flaubert's genius is evident in his choice of words here. To use the term "obsession" would destroy the lambent subtlety at an early stage of the story, whereas "occupation" leaves us with an impression of the innocent triflings of a young woman.
Emma's alternate reality is, however, beyond obsession. A student of psychology would easily label her a true sociopath. She is incapable of feeling an...
... middle of paper ...
...he financial disaster is finally confirmed, it is mere icing on the cake. Emma is already destroyed from within. Flaubert masterfully brings her ruin to a crescendo with fiery, exploding spheres that are the dying gasp of her dreamscape. When they disappear, the lights of the houses through the fog are a picture of reality coming into focus, and then the abyss is there for her.
In a last ditch effort to cheat the abyss, Emma poisons herself. She somehow believes that she has accomplished this evasion as she lays dying, until the emissary of reality sings her dirge for her. At the very point of escape she is seized by the terror of reality, and pulled into the abyss by the song of the blind man.
Bart, Benjamin. Flaubert. Syracuse: Syracuse UP 1967.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Lowell Bair. New York: Bantam 1972.
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