The orphaned Felicite is treated badly in her youth, first by a cruel master and later by jealous fellow servants. Disappointed in love at age 18, she leaves her neighborhood to become cook and general servant for a widowed mother, Madame Aubain. In that position, she lives a life filled with duty, devotion, and affection. Flaubert tells the story in a simple manner which emphasizes the value of Felicite’s humble life. At Madame Aubain’s, Felicite enters a routine which makes her life seem orderly. By conscientious work, she makes herself necessary to the family. Most important to her happiness is her increased freedom to love. She loves Madame Aubain’s two children, Paul and Virginia, courageously saving them from an angry bull. She accidentally discovers a lost sister whose family she helps from her tiny income and whose son, Victor, becomes a favorite. Victor and Virginia both die young. Felicite’s grief at their loss is as great as Madame Aubain’s for her daughter. The two women first express simple affection for each other when they one day go through Virginia’s long-kept clothing. When the children are gone, leaving only Madame Aubain for Felicite to love, she begins to collect objects which remind her of them, such as Virginia’s felt hat. Her prize possession becomes Loulou, a parrot which reminds her of Victor because it came from America, where he died. The parrot becomes so important to her that, upon its death, she has it stuffed. She eventually becomes deaf and loses Madame Aubain. In her increasing isolation, she clings to the image of the parrot, which becomes for her an image of the Holy Ghost, a symbol of what she has loved and of her power of loving simply.
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