Study Guide

Sentimental Education Allegory or Anti-Allegory

By Gustave Flaubert

Allegory or Anti-Allegory

By now, you've probably caught on that there are two stories in Sentimental Education: one about Frederick and one about France. (Want the historical low-down? Check out our discussion in "Setting.")

As it turns out, the development of both our protagonist and the country follow along similar lines: they both through significant upheaval, but nothing really changes in the end. Let's take a look at a few broad parallels:

  • As the people build toward a revolution, Frederick does so for himself, turning into the kind of person he's dreamed of being. Of course, Frederick's revolution is completely self-absorbed.
  • Frederick suffers from disappointments (a lot of them) and, of course, so do the people. 
  • Frederick is all about dreams and ambitions. And you know what? The Revolution was all about idealistic visions, too.

But here's the thing: Frederick's life isn't a strict allegory. In fact, it's strange how little these two stories really intersect—how little Frederick cares about the revolution, the death, the carnage, and all of the crazy chaos on the streets. Could it be that Flaubert's trying to make a point with this distinction?

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