Social Classes in Madam Bovary

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12 December 2000

Social Classes in "Madam Bovary"

Striving for higher social status has been the downfall of many people just as it was the destruction of Emma Bovary. In Nineteenth Century France, several class existed: peasant or working class, middle class, upper-middle class, bourgeois, and aristocrats. In the story, "Madame Bovary," we see a number of individuals striving to move themselves up to the bourgeois, a status that is higher than the working class but not as high as nobility. The bourgeois are characterized by being educated and wealthy but unlike the aristocracy, they earned their money through hard work and kept it through frugality (Britannica). Our bourgeois strivers in "Madame Bovary" kept up

appearances but they would never quite make it to the full rank of bourgeois. Because the level of one's social class status is determined so much by appearances, an individual can keep up a good front and be accepted into the circle when they are out of town where no-one knows the truth. Both Emma and Homais followed this practice in their pursuits to really belong. "Madame Bovary" is about a sense of self, a search for personal identity and reality versus illusion. The symbolism throughout the story is clearly indicative of this fact (Nadiau 136).

Charles Bovary moves between two classes: working and
middle. He comes from a middle class home but he does not seem to care what his social status is. Both his mother and his wife, on the other hand, want to move up in class status. His second wife, Emma Bovary becomes obsessed with becoming part of the bourgeois and is sorely disappointed when she finds she has married a man that might have the potential to do so but lacks the ambition (Galenet.com).

Charles, at the urging of his mother, an upper-middle class
woman, attends medical school, which will give him the means by which to move into the bourgeois, but it takes him two attempts to pass. Undaunted, his mother, the elder Madame Bovary,...
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