Study Guide

Madame Bovary Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Gustave Flaubert

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Emma’s appearance

The more Emma transgresses, the more beautiful she grows – as though her body responds to the corruption of her soul. Emma’s beauty reaches its greatest height at the end of the novel, as she commits her worst crime, suicide.

Why should this happen, though? What does Emma’s appearance signify? There’s no absolute answer to that, but we think it has to do with her intense connection to her physicality. As Emma delves deeper into her desires, indulging more and more in sensuality, her body becomes far more present, both to us, the readers, and to Emma herself. As she gives in to her long-repressed physical desires, her body flourishes and her beauty exerts more power.

The Blind Man

The image of the blind beggar occurs several times as the novel nears its end. Emma first feels something akin to pity towards him, but her feelings are always tinged with disgust. His appearance represents the intensifying corruption of Emma’s soul, and as her situation worsens, he shows up more and more frequently. It’s notable that his horrifying physical appearance is described with the same kind of obsessive detail usually reserved to describe Emma’s beauty; we have distinct mental images of both Emma and the beggar, but really not of anyone else. This sets the two of them and links them in our minds.

The presence of the blind man at the scene of Emma’s death is particularly disturbing. Emma is profoundly upset by the sound of his harsh voice outside her window as she lies dying, and the end of his song comes at the same moment that Emma dies. Fittingly, the last line of the song tells us that the woman in it was no innocent young lady, but was instead a strumpet who lost her petticoat. This rude ending aligns to Emma’s own unfortunate end; while the song’s closing line is comical, it comments grimly upon the very un-funny closing of Emma’s life.