Social Class in Madame Bovary
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Discuss social class in 'Madame Bovary.' Is Emma a sophisticated aristocrat born by mistake in a bourgeois prison, or is she simply a middle-class girl obsessed with a richer life? Make detailed references to the text in order to support your points. In the novel, 'Madame Bovary,' Gustave Flaubert emphasises the importance of social class: all of the characters have a place in the social hierarchy, with obvious distinctions between lower, middle, and upper classes. The lower classes are represented by those who work for the Bovarys': Felicite and the wet nurse, in addition to the old beggar and to an extent, Justin. The upper class consists of Rodolphe, the guests of the ball in Part I, and even, Charles Bovary's classmates in the very first chapter. The Bovarys are part of the middle class, much to the disappointment of Emma. Emma is obviously part of middle-class society, but whether she belongs there requires further analysis. 'Madame Bovary' is about a beautiful woman, who is enchanted by the novels she reads, and ends up in a boring marriage, looking for the excitement she reads about. This eventually leads her into adultery, first with Rodolphe, and then Leon. Even her affairs are not as her novels describe them, and she continually has problems either with her husband or her lovers.
(Pt I: Ch 2) Even with her bourgeois status, Emma knows many things solely associated with aristocrats and upper classes (dancing, embroidery, piano). Even her father is of the opinion that she is better than the life she has: "...he made excuses for her, thinking her too educated for farming, an accursed occupation, one that never made any man a millionaire." (Pt I: Ch 3) This further emphasises she does not belong in the middle-class societies. As well as her good education, it is also believed that Emma is too attractive to be part of lower classes: "Leon walked around the room; he thought it strange to see this beautiful woman in her cream cotton dress, in the midst of such misery" (Pt II: Ch 3) This quote further implies that Madame Bovary does not fit in middle or lower class societies, only more flattering atmospheres and places seem to suit her. She is also seen as, 'a lady of fashion', which is confirmed by her dress and manner: "...showing off on Sundays in church in her silk dress, like a countess." (Pt I: Ch 2) On the other hand, Madame Bovary shows much interest in the 'rich', and it could be that her aristocratic behaviour is only a result of this.
In addition, as her husband becomes successful, and his reputation spreads, Madame Bovary seems to be more proud of him, and begins to love him more: " He saw his reputation spreading, his prosperity increasing, his wife loving him perpetually; she found herself happily revived in a new sentiment, healthier, better, happy to feel some tenderness for this poor boy who so adored her." (Pt II: Ch 11) This shows that she is not in love with her husband, but rather his success, and the prestige he brings to their family. When his operation is deemed a failure, she is immediately filled with rage, and all love she previously had for him had been lost. Emma can be seen as an aristocrat; she does, after all, possess traits which we usually associate with the upper class. However, Emma is part of a bourgeois family, and it is highly unlikely that she would be raised to be an aristocratic woman. She is married to an adequate doctor, and before marriage, had lived in the countryside. However much she prefers or likes the high society lifestyle, she is part of the middle class by birth, and even after her marriage to Charles she is still lives a bourgeois lifestyle, despite her attempts to be more aristocratic through the amount of material goods she owns.
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