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Themes

So you think you can paint? Frederick sure does. At various points in Sentimental Education, Frederick plans to be a lawyer, a writer, and a painter. Everyone else has big dreams, too: Monsieur Arnoux runs L'Art Industriel, Pellerin wants the government to subsidize his painting, and Deslauriers wants to be editor of a political journal. Ultimately, Frederick and his friends are all wannabe artists and provincial, narrow-minded intellectuals. Flaubert reminds us what no-names they are by scattering the names of famous artists, thinkers, and great men all over the novel. (Check out "Shout-Outs" for more.)

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Who are the real artists in this novel? Are there any? How about intellectuals?
  2. Why do so many people want to be artists? What did it mean to be an artist—socially and economically?
  3. Could you consider Frederick an artist at any point? Why or why not?

Chew on This

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

Pellerin's art stinks, but at least he doesn't lack the courage of his convictions.

For most of the characters in this novel, art and culture just seem like another tool for social climbing.

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