Study Guide

Sentimental Education Plot Analysis

By Gustave Flaubert

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Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Gee, Life is Dull. Zoinks! Look at That Hot Woman.

Frederick doesn't know what hit him. On his way from Paris to the sleepy little town of Nogent-sur-Seine (to see his overly ambitious mom), he lays eyes on the most incredible looking woman he has ever seen. Life's priorities sudden fall into place: GET HER.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Well, She's Married and Not Interested, But Why Quibble Over Details?

Frederick moves to Paris and begins to work on his plan. But he has to get all sorts of money, get a job, pump up his social status, meet the right people, go to law school, and—well, he's busy. All of these obligations are pesky in comparison to his love for Madame Arnoux, though.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Goin' For It

We're not saying that Frederick makes any rash moves (believe us). After all, he takes several years to muster the courage to even say, "Gee, I like you." But when he does—you guessed it—he gets shut down. This woman's got some virtue. Unlike Rosanette, who happens to become Frederick's mistress along the way.

Falling Action

Guess I'll Just Party and Travel the World While a Revolution Goes On

Frederick doesn't exactly grab a musket and join the fray, so if you're into active protagonists, prepare not to love this guy. First, he is fully and unquestionably rejected by Madame Arnoux; then she relents and they have one of those "I've never been so emotionally fulfilled in my life" romances. Things get messy when she flakes on him, so he gets engaged and then breaks up with Madame Dambreuse and parties with and then dumps Rosanette. When that's out of his system. Frederick decides to do a little traveling to try to get over the whole mess that is his life.

Resolution (Dénouement)

Say What?

Frederick's just hanging out in his fancy bourgeois apartment in Paris, and who should show up but Madame Arnoux. A lot of time has gone by—about 20 years—so she's looking like an old lady. Well, Frederick's not down with that look and gets a little put off thinking she's come to offer herself to him. She gets in a carriage, says au revoir, and that's that.

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