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Madame Bovary – Emma’s Escape

A theme throughout Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is escape versus
confinement. In the novel Emma Bovary attempts again and again to
escape the ordinariness of her life by reading novels, having affairs,
day dreaming, moving from town to town, and buying luxuries items. It
is Emma’s early education described for an entire chapter by Flaubert
that awakens in Emma a struggle against what she perceives as
confinement. Emma’s education at the convent is perhaps the most
significant development of the dichotomy in the novel between
confinement and escape. The convent is Emma’s earliest confinement,
and it is the few solicitations from the outside world that intrigue
Emma, the books smuggled in to the convent or the sound of a far
away cab rolling along boulevards.

The chapter mirrors the structure of the book it starts as we
see a satisfied women content with her confinement and conformity at
the convent.

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At first far from being boredom the convent, she enjoyed the
company of the nuns, who, to amuse her, would take her into the chapel
by way of a long corridor leading from the dining hall. She played
very little during the recreation period and knew her catechism well.

(Flaubert 30.)
The chapter is also filled with images of girls living with
in the protective walls of the convent, the girls sing happily
together, assemble to study, and pray. But as the chapter progresses
images of escape start to dominate. But these are merely visual images
and even these images are either religious in nature or of similarly
confined people.

She wished she could have lived in some old manor house, like
those chatelaines in low wasted gowns who spent their days with their
elbows on the stone sill of a gothic window surmounted by trefoil,
chin in hand watching a white plumed rider on a black horse galloping
them from far across the country. (Flaubert 32.)
As the chapter progresses and Emma continues dreaming while in
the convent the images she conjures up are of exotic and foreign
lands. No longer are the images of precise people or event but instead
they become more fuzzy and chaotic. The escape technique that she used
to conjure up images of heroines in castles seems to lead inevitably
to chaos and disintegration.

And there were sultans with long pipes swooning on the arbors
on the arms of dancing girls; there were Giaours, Turkish sabers and
fezzes; and above all there were wan landscapes of fantastic
countries: palm trees and pines were often combined in one picture
with tigers on the right a lion on the left. (Flaubert 33.)
Emma’s dreams by this point are chaotic with both palms and
pines mixed together with lions and tigers. These dreams continue and
change themselves into a death wish as swans transform themselves into
dying swans, and singing into funeral music. But Emma although bored
with her fantasy refuses to admit it and she starts to revolt against
the confines of the convent until the Mother Superior was glad to see
her go.

The chapter about Emma Bovary’s education at the convent is
significant not only because it provides the basis for Emma’s
character, but also because the progression of images in this chapter
is indicative of the entirety of the novel. The images progress from
confinement to escape to chaos and disintegration. In Madame Bovary
Emma changes from a women content with her marriage, to a women who
escapes from the ordinariness of her everyday life through affairs and
novels, to a women whose life is so chaotic that she disintegrates and
kills herself. Indeed, Madame Bovary is like a poem comprised of a
progression of repeating images.

Emma Bovary found interest in the things around her which
prevent her boredom in her early education it was the novels she read,
“They were filled with love affairs, lovers, mistresses, persecuted
ladies fainting in lonely country houses.” She also found interest in
the sea but only because it was stormy. But all the things that Emma
found interest in she soon became board of from Charles to Leon. This
cycle of boredom and the progression of images of confinement, escape,
and chaos, parallel both in the Chapter on Emma’s education and the
novel as a whole the entire mural of the novel as Emma’s journey from
boredom in reality to self-destruction in fantasy.


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