Binary Opposition in ‘Madame Bovary’ (Realism vs. Romanticism)

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

The binary opposition of a completely romantic character being portrayed in the realistic world is how Emma is portrayed in the novel Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. In this novel Emma is constantly romanticising her life but yet still being struck by her reality. Binary opposition in this novel is used to show Emma’s true emotions. Throughout the story binary opposition is used in many different scenes showing the relationship between Romanticism versus Realism. These two themes go hand in hand in walking the reader through Emma’s thoughts and desires. Whether it is romanticizing her married life and not being able to fill that void, romanticizing her own suicide or her desire to have the life that she always wanted. Comparing romanticism and realism gives the reader a better understanding of society and of the characters in the novel.

Romanticism is portrayed by the quality or spirit in thought, expression, or action. In the beginning of the 1800s, romanticism was a literary movement that was used to emphasize emotion over reason and subjectivity vs objectivity. Which brings us to one of the main characters in this novel Emma Bovary, often referred to as Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary is a young girl who for most of her young life was educated in a convent. She gets married to Charles Bovary, a mediocre doctor, with the illusion that now she would live the life that she always wanted. Being that in a realistic world that usually that does not happen Emma is not content with her new life and turns to adultery to try and fulfill the void that she has in her life. In the novel Emma also contemplate suicide by jumping out of a window. Which represents her wanting to escape her miserable life. She also waves goodbye to Leon and Charles through a window which also symbolizes her own life and but also how she is still wondering what could have been.

Binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. In the novel Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert binary opposition is used to show Emma’s, the main character, true feelings and emotions. One example of binary opposition in this novel is Romanticism versus Realism. Flaubert incorporates many scenes in this novel that portray Emma’s unrealistics desires being crushed by a real and harsh world. As a romantic character her fate in inevitably crushed because in a realistic world romance is only an illusion and sooner or later you have to come back to life. In the Emma is unable to see herself and the world as they really are because she keeps constantly romanticising her life and everything else around her. One example of that would be “ she wanted to get some personal profit out of things…looking for emotions not landscapes.” Because Emma was raised in a covenant she was used to reading many romance novels that practically were her only ideal of marriage and what the real world was. Consequently she began to believe that she could have the same life as those in those novel. Emma Bovary suffered a tragic fate at the hands of destiny due to her naïve outlook on life and desperate search for fulfillment. An example of Emma romanticising her life was when Flaubert wrote “ she bought a plan of Paris and with the tip of her finger on the map she walked about the capital. She went up the boulevards, stopping at every turn in between the lines of the streets, in front of the white squares that represented the houses”. Again trying to escape the void in her life Emma romanticizes a life of glamour and wealth in Paris.

Realism in literature is a technique to show the middle class lifestyle as it is. Emma is the character that Flaubert uses as the embodiment of romanticism placed in a realistic setting. Flaubert uses Emma as an embodiment of realism to critique the frivolous nature of romantic writers in the time period and to highlight the realistic conditions of France when the novel was written. Essentially romanticism is the crushing of the realities of life. Because Emma is a romantic novel she tried to romanticize her own death. At the end of the novel Emma commits suicide she believes that her death would be quick and painless, but at Flaubert wrote “ she soon began to vomit blood…her limbs convulsed, her whole body covered with brown spots…”. Yet again Flaubert shows that no matter how much you romanticize something reality will always have the upperhand. In this particular quote from the novel Flaubert uses gruesome diction. He uses words like vomit, blood, and convulsed which all have a negative connotation to show that romanticism gives you the good feeling while realism gives you the cold harsh reality of life.

The ball scene was a very important scene in this novel it basically centered the theme romanticism versus realism. In this scene the broken window, which is a symbol of a gateway between her illusion and her real life, on one side is her childhood which consists of a muddy farm, apple trees, and ponds. This all portrays how simple her childhood actually was. This contrasts with the life she want to live. In the same scene Flaubert uses specific diction to show Emma’s desire to be a bourgeois. He specifically talks about the details of what she was doing “ she was eating a maraschino ice from a silver-gilt shell that she was holding in her left hand; the spoon was between her teeth and her eyes were half shut”. This is another example of Emma trying to close her eyes to reality and trying to escape reality but something always hold her back.

Windows are a very important symbol on this novel, they are directly related to Emma’s desire and to her feeling of entrapment. Firstly they serve as a connection between Emma and her past. During one scene in the novel Emma was at the ball, suddenly she notices the servants working outside, of course through the window, this brings her back to the simplicity of her childhood. This of course differentiates from the actual party and the glamour of the upper class. More of the ways that windows are symbolic are because they often represent an escape. In the novel Emma always has the desire to escape but yet she never does. First she has the desire to escape the simplicity of her life but as we notice in the novel the reader is always looking at Emma from the outside of the window as if she was trapped showing that she ever got what she wanted. In the novel Emma also contemplates suicide by jumping of a window, which represents her wanting to escape her miserable life. She also waves goodbye to Leon and Charles through a window, which also means that she is still trapped in her own life and wondering what could of been. Binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. In the novel Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, binary opposition is used to show Emma’s true feelings and emotions. One example of Binary Opposition in this novel is Romanticism vs Realism. Flaubert incorporates many scenes in this novel that portray Emma’s unrealistic desires being crushed by reality. As a romantic character her fate is inevitable crushed because in a realistic world romanticism is only an illusion and sooner her later she has to come back to the real world.

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