Symbolism and Realism in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jul 21st, 2020

The nineteenth-century gave rise to realistic and symbolic movements that were still closely intertwined with visions creating more ambiguity and ambivalence. Based primarily on the true story, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was often considered as an example of a romantic novel because of the protagonist’s delusion outlooks on life, relations, and attitudes to people. However, the story is also seen as a realistic representation because the author resorts to representing romantic delusions that prevent the main heroine from living in a grim reality. Thus, this essay shall analyze realism in Madame Bovary and the symbols used by the author.

In this regard, romanticism is heavily attacked by verisimilitude and disappointment that were experienced by Emma Bovary in her attempts to build an imaginary world full of passion, emotion, and beauty (Flaubert 1033). The author focuses on character development to disclose the ambivalence of the plot and provides realistic details becoming symbolic in light of the romantic recession.

The character development in the story is presented through Emma’s realization of the imperfection of the world. She lives in a false reality that prevails in her imagination, disclosed through cultural modes of visions. The heroine is incapable of distinguishing between the fantasy and reality, past and present; she also has a false imagination about the man. Therefore, the author makes use of realism to make Emma realize that the world is not a romantic fable; it is overwhelmed with problems and routines (Thornton 982).

Viewing the tragedy novel as a confrontation between romanticism and realism, the story, on the other hand, provides a romantic and illusionary world created by Emma Bovary to detach herself from reality. On the other hand, psychological realism still dominates in the novel because all dreams and utmost expectations are shattered in the end. The world surrounding the heroine is realistic because reason takes control of emotion. In this respect, Emma’s particular visions dictated by her cultural background prevents her from accepting real life.

Although Madame Bovary as a realistic novel is widely recognized, Flaubert’s quest of distortions and illusions lead to the idea that the work itself is a protest against the dullness of the existence. Such an apposition generates more deliberations on the nature of the novel’s ideas and insights (Doering 80). Flaubert’s deep contempt for reality does not allow him to be detached and indifferent enough for expressing aesthetic distance.

The writer’s vacillation between pretentious objectivity and passionate subjectivity prevents him from disclosing his full affiliation to the realistic tendencies of the nineteenth century (Doering 80). Hence, the heroine is more obsessed with her romantic adventures. As is clear from the summary, her aspiration to go beyond the established reality is impossible because the frames within she lives do not allow her to turn her imaginary world into the truth.

While reflecting on the essence of Flaubert’s ideas, Doering states that “the romantic proclamation of the individual’s right to happiness proved illusory because for him happiness itself proved to be an illusion” (79). This melancholy later turned into pessimism and realization of moral solitude, as the writer is aware that real life has no meaning. Despite the mentioned instances of romanticism in Madame Bovary, the novel still proclaims that this movement was gradually suppressed by realistic waves.

In the novel, the writer also oversees a significant literary dimension through the display of realistic details. Even though Flaubert the master of realism, he still refers to reality as to the point of departure for the creator. While striving to render the beauty of the ideal world, the writer also makes use of realistic details to initiate the reader into metaphoric and romantic dimensions of the concealed world created by Madame Bovary.

Her false visions are explicitly represented through realistic precision, providing a ground for symbolism that forms the essence of the novel’s themes (Black 177). Hence, the main heroine’s hidden world is full of passion, emotion; it is too ideal for reality, but it makes Emma be protected from the boredom and existentialistic tendencies of the nineteenth century’s society.

At the same time, the ideal she creates does not fill in her life with sense because she is a constant and desperate search of the unknown, of something that does not exist.

In conclusion, it can be stated that, although the author has introduced notes of romanticism in the novel, the core of work is still focused on the rise of realistic tendencies that suppress any displays of passion, emotion, and beauty. Therefore, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is an example of the realism genre.The proclamation of the reason is still accompanied by the author’s rigid confrontation with the reality that does not provide people with the right to be happy and independent in making decisions. Thus, this can be viewed as the main evidence of realism in Madame Bovary.

More importantly, the established ambivalence makes the novel even more realistic and compelling as it contributes to a better understanding of why the era of romanticism was suppressed. Making use of metaphorical dimensions and resorting to the description of realistic details, Flaubert creates a harmonic tandem where romantic spirits serve to render the symbolism of Madame Bovary’s plot as well as the author’s disappointment with the advent of the realism.

Works Cited

Black, L. C. “Madame Bovary”: The Artist and the Ideal. College Literature. 12.2 (1985), pp. 176-183

Doering, Bernard. Madame Bovary and Flaubert’s Romanticism. College Literature. 8.1 (1981): pp. 1-11.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. In The Norton Anthology: Western Literature Volume 2. Ed. Sara Lawall. US: W W Norton.

Thornton, Lawrence. The Fairest of Them All: Modes of Vision in Madame Bovary. Modern Language Association. 93.5 (1978): 982-991.




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