Study Guide

Sentimental Education Society and Class

By Gustave Flaubert

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Society and Class

Talk about social climbing. Where you are and where you wish you were are a major deal in Sentimental Education. But here's the thing: even though we're in the midst of a socioeconomic-related revolution, Flaubert really only gives us access to the various levels of upper class—from the bourgeoisie to, you know, Dambreuse. In case you couldn't figure it out from their professions (or lack thereof), these people are indulgent and money-hungry. And as much as Frederick wants to be them, he also thinks they're pretty ridiculous.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Social standing seems to really matter in this novel. How do these characters get away with such bad behavior?
  2. At one point, Frederick comments on how boring the conversation is at all of the fancy parties. Why do these people seem to have so little to talk about?
  3. How does loaning money connect to social standing in the novel? 
  4. Are any of the characters satisfied with their social standing?
  5. Has Frederick's social status changed by the end of the novel?

Chew on This

Frederick probably gives social climbing priority over his work in law school because the former effort will get him further in life.

Frederick seems equally motivated by class aspirations and his love of Madame Arnoux. By the end of the novel, though, class has definitely taken the trump card.

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