Study Guide

Madame Bovary Repression

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Madame Bovary is all about desire – and its consequences. The protagonist is tormented by her inexplicable, sensual yearnings, and her longing to escape from her small-town life. Her town is not exactly a forgiving place…nor was the nineteenth century exactly a very forgiving time. Social constraints impose a constant sense of tension upon the novel as a whole. This doesn’t just apply to Emma Bovary herself; the whole society is so tightly wound that practically everyone is always hiding some secret desire. Once the façade of social boundaries cracks, though, look out.

Questions About Repression

  1. Do you think the other townspeople have desires as wild as Emma’s that they simply keep better hidden?
  2. How much of Emma’s desire is motivated by the temptation of the forbidden fruit?
  3. What impact, if any, does society’s rigid set of standards and demands have on Emma’s decisions?

Chew on This

The intensity of social pressure increases Emma’s enjoyment of her transgressions.

The romantic novels that Emma reads play upon the repressed desires of the society she lives in by glorifying adultery and other illicit activities.

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