An analysis of Homais as an instrument of satire
In Flaubert's satiric novel, the story's apothecary is used to convey Flaubert's views of the bourgeois. As a vehicle for Flaubert's satire, Homais is portrayed as opportunistic and self-serving, attributes that Flaubert associated with the middle class. Homais' obsession with social mobility leads him to commit despicable acts. His character and values are also detestable. He is self-serving, hypocritical, opportunistic, egotistical, and crooked. All these negative characteristics are used by Flaubert to represent and satirize specific aspects of middle class society. More specific issues that are addressed include Homais' superficial knowledge, religious hypocrisy, and pretentiousness. Furthermore, his status as a secondary character suggests his significance to the satire. If Emma is meant to portray the feminine aspect of the bourgeois then Homais is undoubtedly meant to represent the masculine aspect. Flaubert wanted to ridicule and criticize the bourgeois class. By including Homais, Flaubert is able to satirize all the negative aspects of middle class society within a single novel. In adolescence and throughout much of his life, Gustave Flaubert regarded the bourgeois existence as an "immense, indistinct, unmitigated state of mindlessness" (Wall 29-31). He vented his contempt for the bourgeois in many of his works. In his Dictionary of Received Ideas he proclaims:
"Each bourgeois phrase, each bourgeois feeling, each bourgeois opinion is touched by the hilarious dismaying suspicion of fakery. Solemnly and energetically proclaiming their clichés to each other, perhaps the bourgeois are indeed simply machines. They are stuck, like busy automata, in their perpetual false consciousness" (Wall 29-31). In Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert uses Homais as one of the central figures of his satire. Homais, Yonville's apothecary and the Bovarys' neighbor, is used as a vehicle to ridicule the values and principles of the French middle class. True to this, Homais is depicted as an overly ambitious, self-important fool. For example, Flaubert creatively stages arguments between Homais and the village priest in order to mock the bourgeois's lack of spirituality. One encounter of note occurs on Emma's deathbed soon after she has passed away. The Priest declares that there is nothing left but to pray for Emma. In response, Homais, an avowed agnostic, blasphemously objects, "since God knows our needs, what can be the use of prayer?" This in turn, starts a heated and farcical debate over religion, which culminates when Homais accuses the Jesuits of fabricating history. The heated discussion briefly ceases when Charles enters the room, and then resumes once he has left. Homais' dispute over the use of prayer not only reaffirms his agnostic beliefs but also reflects his open contempt for the church and its institutions. Furthermore, his apparent eagerness to win the debate overrides his respect for the deceased, and further underscores his selfish and indifferent values. As a representative of the bourgeois, Homais is depicted as morally offensive and shallow. In fact, the very image of him arguing ideologies over the deceased body of Emma is offensive in itself. "Flaubert creatively uses this incident to highlight the ideological and religious decay of French middle class society and also to ridicule the optimism and enthusiasm for scientific progress and enlightenment which were so marked a feature of mid-19th century France" (Thody 576). Homais' indifference and superficial knowledge are cleverly highlighted in the incident with Hippolyte. In the novel, he is constantly rambling on about revolutionary medical procedures he knows nothing about. This more often then not leads him into trouble. For example, in his aspirations for fame and prestige Homais manipulatively convinces Hippolyte to have a surgery he doesn't need in an attempt to fix his clubfoot. He arranges for Charles to carry...
Bibliography: Brombert, Victor. The Novels of Flaubert: A study of themes and techniques. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1966.
Kenner, Hugh. The Stoic Comedians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962
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