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Themes

This may sound unusual, but art and culture are cause for worry in Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary, the novel’s protagonist, is infatuated by the romantic novels she reads, and believes wholeheartedly in the vision of life she finds there. Similarly, she indulges emotionally in the other arts, such as music and painting. Some of the other characters worry that the dramatic emotions stirred in Emma are unhealthy; the blame mostly falls on the novels she reads. In the provincial world these characters inhabit, art and culture are seen as dangerous distractions, rather than necessities of life.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Do you think the romantic novels that Emma reads actually have the adverse effect on her that Charles’s mother claims?
  2. Emma responds to art, literature, and music in an intensely personal, emotional fashion. Is there a right or wrong way to appreciate art?
  3. How do the other characters’ views on the arts reflect their personalities? Consider Charles, Léon, and Homais in particular.

Chew on This

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

Emma is not corrupted by bad books; instead, she is corrupted because she is a bad reader.

The novel’s distance from Paris, the center of culture, both fosters Emma’s discontent and encourages her to create her own imaginary version of cosmopolitan life.

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