Society's Oppression in Madame Bovary and Middlemarch Essay

Society's Oppression in Madame Bovary and Middlemarch Essay

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Oppression of characters is usually fuelled by external causes. In the case of Madame Bovary and Middlemarch, external causes like gender norms result in the oppression of women. In Madame Bovary, society's expectations of a wifely figure restricts Emma's desire to climb the social ladder. In Middlemarch, the dogmas about female intellectual abilities propagated by characters like Lydgate and Casaubon hinder Dorothea's ability to become an intellectual within society. Critic Howard Kushner writes that “ideology... emphasized women as mothers and guardians of the family” (Kushner 1). This quote draws the parameters of what a woman was expected to be in the Victorian era, clearly emphasizing the limitations put in place for womenkind. Exploring the characters in Madame Bovary and Middlemarch offers insight into female oppression in Victorian society.


Society's Oppression of Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary offers a scathing indictment of the oppression of females in the nineteenth century. Emma Bovary's life is used as an example to illustrate how women's lives were circumscribed and dictated to by the men surrounding them. Emma is presented as an average woman with fantasies of love and luxury in her heart. These fantasies are never fulfilled due to her early marriage (dictated by her father) and her middle-class lifestyle (dictated by her husband). Her dreams are trapped between the wills of the two men in her life and though she tries, in her own way, to break free from them, she does not find fulfilment in her life, leading to her eventual unhappiness and demise.




It is important to note the title of the novel, Madame Bovary. The title is dissociative, shadowing the character in a lack of identity. From the title, th...


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...Middlemarch,’ Obligation, and Dorothea’s Duplicity. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 2000. JSTOR. Web. 5 May 2014.

McCarthy, Patrick. Lydgate, ‘The New, Young Surgeon’ of Middlemarch. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 10.4 (1970): 805-816. JSTOR. Web. 5 May 2014.

Nicholes, Joseph. “Dorothea in the Moated Grange: Millais’s Mariana and the
Middlemarch Window Scenes.” Victorians Institute Journal Vol. 20 1992: 93-124.

Postlethwaite, Diana. George Eliot and Science. The Cambridge Companion to
George Eliot. Ed. George Levine. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 98-118. Print.

Sodre, Ignes. Death by Daydreaming. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Walker, Alexander. Woman Physiologically Considered as to Mind, Morals, Marriage, Matrimonial Slavery, Infidelity and Divorce. London, A.H. Baily and Co., Cornhill, 1840. Web. 5 May 2014.

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