Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and The Awakening by Kate Chopin both show the life of a woman in a half-dreamy stupor, overzealously running around looking for something but not knowing what it is they are looking for. They feel immensely dissatisfied with the lives they are stuck with and find suicide to be the only alternative. The two books, Madame Bovary, written in 1857 and The Awakening, written in 1899, both have the theme of confinement and free-will, yet differ vastly with respect to the yearnings of the main characters. In addition, Edna and Emma, the protagonists of Madame Bovary and The Awakening respectively, are faced with a conflict between external oppression and their own free will, which eventually leads them to take their lives. Edna and Emma have vastly different yearnings yet similar reasons for suicide.
Edna’s and Emma’s yearnings are vastly different, if not opposite. Edna yearns for an uncontrolled lifestyle because her current lifestyle leaves her feeling like a possession. She yearns to break that label; she fights to do as she wishes. Her moving into the Pigeon house, shedding of layers of restrictive clothing, and having affairs with Robert and Arobin show this feeling of confinement. Emma, on the other hand, wants to indulge in what Edna fights against; she wants to be owned and attempts to achieve self-fulfillment through romantic attachments, whereas Edna wants to break away from all attachment, especially family and society. Emma’s yearnings are shown through her affairs with Leonce and Rudolphe, her unrestricted spending of money, and through her thoughts and feelings of discontent.
Emma yearned to escape the monotony of her life; she coveted sophistication, sensuality, and passion, and lapsed into extreme boredom when her life did not fit the model of what she believed it should be. Emma merged her dream world with reality without knowing it in order to survive the monotony of her existence, while ultimately destroying her. It is not her intellect, but her capacity to dream and to wish to transform the world to fit her dreams, which sets her apart from Edna. For instance, at the scene where Emma and Charles go to the La Vanbyessard’s château, Emma is awestruck by a fat, uncouth, upperclassman.
At the head of the table, alone among the ladies, an old man sat hunched over hi...
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... never really loved her. Even the moneylender played her weakness and took advantage of her. Emma realized also that her romantic idealisms could never be filled; that though a man like that may exist, she could never find him. “But if somewhere there existed a strong, handsome man with valorous, passionate and refined nature, a poet's soul in the form of an angel, a lyre with strings of bronze intoning elegiac nuptial songs to the heavens, why was it not possible that she might meet him some day? No, it would never happen!” (Flaubert 245). Emma loses all hope, and falls into a deep state of depression. “Besides, nothing was worth seeking-everything was a lie! Each smile hid a yawn of boredom, each joy a curse each pleasure its own disgust; and the sweetest kisses only left on one's lips a hopeless longing for a higher ecstasy!” (Flaubert 245).
This loss of hope due to the crumbling of the foundations of her dream world and her inability to emulate the model she set for herself led to her suicide. This is similar to Edna in that Edna’s inability to achieve total independence forced her to commit suicide rather than be forced to live in such a world of tyranny and repression.
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