by Gustave Flaubert
Charles is really just a normal guy. He’s neither good nor bad; his biggest faults are simply that he’s wishy-washy and not so bright. He can’t even conceive of ever being dishonest himself, and therefore he never suspects anyone else of being dishonest to him. On the positive side, he's incredibly loyal, sweet, and supremely forgiving. This is all that Charles ever aspires to be. Under the right circumstances, Charles might have had a pretty nice life.
Unfortunately, Charles just married the wrong woman (or women). We get the feeling that in some alternate universe, he might have ended up with a sweet, easy-going woman who would be perfectly happy with the life before her. They would never fight, and never, ever even think about cheating on each other. Life would be terrific – not exciting, not adventurous, but incredibly pleasant and consistent. We can’t help but wish that this life could have happened for Charles.
What does befall Charles is truly heartbreaking. First of all, the guy goes from a domineering mother to a domineering first wife, to a domineering second wife. Sure, he really should have more of a backbone – but in the long run, he really just doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He loves the two main women in his life, Emma and his mother, so much that he can’t separate his judgments from his emotions. Yes, he’s foolish, but you know what? He’s really not a bad guy, and he doesn’t deserve what comes to him.
Sure, we get angry with Charles, and yes, we can understand what drives Emma crazy about him. He is, after all, a creature entirely devoid of ambition. He is also a pretty bad father to poor little Berthe once Emma dies. All in all, though, Charles’s whole mode of operation is just to love and be loved – and, once his undeserving true love, Emma, dies, he has no choice but to fade away.