Madame Bovary vs. the Awakening

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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 his filled plate, wearing his napkin around his neck like a child and letting drops of gravy fall from his mouth as he ate…He was the Marqui's father-in-law, the old Duc de Laverdière; …He had led a life of wild debauch, filled with duels, wagers and abducted women, squandered all his money, and horrified his whole family… Emma's eyes kept turning back to this pendulous-lipped old man as though he were an extraordinary and awe-inspiring sight. He had lived at court and gone to bed with queens! (Flaubert 42)

This is evidence of her inability to see things as they really are because of the merger between reality and her dream world; the man is old, fat, uncouth, dirty, and snobbish, yet Emma is awestruck by him. Emma cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. In reality, the man is "wearing his napkin around his neck like a child and letting drops of gravy fall from his mouth as he [eats]." (Flaubert 42), yet Emma sees him to be "…an extraordinary and awe-inspiring sight. He had lived at court and gone to bed with queens!" (Flaubert 42). Emma is infatuated with royalty and nobility. She sheds any sort of rational thought and finds the old man awe-inspiring merely because he was nobility. "He was the Marqui's Father-in-law, the old Duc de Laverdière". (Flaubert 42). Because of this lack of rationality, she assumes automatically that "He had led a life of wild debauch, filled with duels, wagers and abducted women, squandered all his money, and horrified his whole family." (Flaubert 42). This shows her inability to see past her romantic idealisms that lead to her to trust...
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