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Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

Appearances Theme

Appearance – and particular beauty – is always linked to power in Madame Bovary. People can have the appearance of wealth or refinement or sensitivity…and regardless of how false these appearances are, they are what get people places in this world. Our protagonist, Emma Bovary, is a beautiful woman, and her beauty has a profound effect over almost everyone she encounters. Because of it, she is able to change her life – and ultimately, ruin it. In the end, we discover what we should all know well already: people are definitely not always what they seem to be.

Questions About Appearances

  1. Emma grows more beautiful as she gets deeper and deeper into trouble. Why do you think this happens?
  2. Do we have clear pictures of the characters in the novel, other than Emma? Why or why not?
  3. Does everyone in this society value appearance as much as Emma does?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Emma’s beauty is her greatest asset; it allows her to exert a degree of power over the men in the novel.

The greatest mistake that both Emma and Charles make in the novel is believing the people are exactly what they appear to be.

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