by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary Theme of Women and Femininity
Madame Bovary deconstructs the prim, idealized vision of the perfect nineteenth century woman, simply by giving her thoughts, feelings, and desires. Our protagonist is simultaneously the perfect woman and the nightmare woman of this period. She’s beautiful, a good housekeeper, and on the outside seems like an obedient wife, but she’s actually an adulteress, a spendthrift, and, to be honest, frivolous. Through the life of Emma Bovary, Flaubert attempts to show us an objective, intimate perspective on the difficulties of womanhood during a restrictive and judgmental time period.
Questions About Women and Femininity
- Emma’s concept of the ideal woman (which she strives to be) differs from that of the society around her. What do each of these images of womanhood look like?
- Emma is continuously frustrated by her powerless position as a married woman, and wishes for a son. Do you think she would have loved a son more than she loves her daughter? Why?
- How does Emma’s view of womanhood and femininity relate to her upbringing? Do you think her ideas would be different if she had grown up with a mother?
- How do the other women in the novel (Madame Homais, the elder Madame Bovary, etc.) reflect upon Flaubert’s view of women in general?
Chew on This
Madame Bovary deconstructs the nineteenth century notion that women should have fewer desires and ambitions than men, and suggests instead that women’s subordinate role in society creates greater tensions between their internal and external lives.
Instead of focusing on differences between the sexes, Flaubert comments upon the ways in which women and men are similar.