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Imagery Of Madame Bovary

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1204 words Published: 15th May 2017

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In many forms of literature, authors use symbols as a representation of interpretive meaning. In Gustave Flaubert’s novel, Madame Bovary (1856), one of the major achievements is the excellent use of symbolism. Many of the moral values throughout the novel lie within the use of symbols, which are the elements in the narrative that communicate the rich values over and above their literal meanings (Dauner 1). The apparent purpose of the author is to paint pictures with words, bringing scenes and settings alive with the astonishing use of descriptions. Flaubert’s descriptions are often built up like pictures, from left to right of background to foreground, occasionally even moving through the senses, from sound and smell to touch and sight (Levi 235). Through the use of symbolism, this novel appeals to the senses of idealists. Flaubert uses the garden as a symbol throughout his work that affects the main character, Emma, and implies certain connotations other than its literal meaning. In Part I of the novel, this symbol is presented repeatedly with rich association.

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Throughout Part I, the Tostes section of Emma’s life, the garden appears four different times. It first appears after Emma marries Charles and has seats made around the sundial in the garden. This not only represents her initiative, but also her early stages of romanticism. Later, after she has realized the difference between her vision of Romance from the novels in which she has read, and the marriage to a man that is satisfied with his middle-class lifestyle and has no desire to ascend into higher social class, she begins to go to the garden by moonlight and tries to make herself fall in love with Charles, while singing passionate poems and singing melancholy. The garden now functions as a character symbol, representing Emma’s ambition and her bourgeois romanticism. The garden also plays a major role at Vaubyessard.

During the ball, Emma looks out the window which opens to the garden, where she then sees “peasants peering in from the garden, their faces pressed against the glass (Flaubert 1067). From the garden, her memory of the past seems to be as remote to her present as her actual present is remote for this single night of wealth and society. According to Clive James, this is the scene that awakes Emma’s dangerous taste for the high life (3). For this night, Flaubert explains to the reader, “[…] had opened a breach in her life, like one of those great crevasses that a storm can tear across the face of a mountain in the course of a single night” (1070). Now, the garden creates a type reference in time and character, embracing past, present, and future. Emma is not as she was nor how she will be. The final appearance in Tostes is represented as a pure mood mirror (Dauner 2). “There was no sounds of birds, everything seemed to be sleeping- the espaliered trees under their straw, the vine like a great sick snake under the wall coping, where she could see many legged wood lice crawling as she came near” (Flaubert 1074). Here, the garden is used as an objective to Emma’s self-pitying of her marriage. Later in the novel, the garden also plays an important role in the fulfillment of Emma’s destiny.

Later, the garden appears at least seven times in the fulfillment of Emma’s destiny. Because of Emma’s taste for a higher lifestyle, she develops bad health that persuades Charles to move from Tostes to Yonville, where she meets Leon, the young clerk at the notary’s. They soon become attracted to each other through their romantic interests. One day, Leon accompanies Emma on a walk to see her infant, who is with the wet nurse. On their way back to Yonville, Emma becomes tired and takes Leon’s arm. Next, they pass by “The garden walls, their copings bristling with broken bits of bottles, were as warm as the glass of a greenhouse. Wallflowers had taken root between the bricks; and as she passed, the edge of Madame Bovary’s open parasol crumbled some of their faded flowers into yellow dust; or an overhanging branch of honeysuckle or clematis would catch in the fringe and cling for a moment to the silk” (Flaubert 1093). The two then spoke for a brief moment, but “Their eyes were full of more meaningful talk; and as they made themselves utter banalties they sensed the same languor invading them both” (Flaubert 1093). Through the objective details of the author and with Emma’s apparent purposeful violation of the wallflowers with her sunshade, Flaubert may have been employing an underlying sexual tone that relates to both the concept of the garden and the tension of the walk, which may also be foreshadowing Emma’s affair with Leon. Emma herself is a kind of “wallflower”-emotionally untouched (James 5). Soon after Leon leaves for Rouen, Emma’s thought revives her happiness of the “[…] afternoons by themselves in the garden! He had read aloud to her, bareheaded on a rustic bench, the cool wind from the meadows ruffling the pages of his book and the nasturtiums on the arbor…. And now he was gone, the one bright spot in her life, her one possible hope of happiness! (Flaubert 1110). The garden now acts as the physical force that creates Emma’s emotion. Later, when Leon comes back from Rouen to visit her, it is behind the garden that she meets him, as she had previously done with Rudolphe. The garden continues to play an important part of Emma’s life up until the point of her death.

Emma soon becomes disgusted with the garden because of the memory in which it evokes. She then develops a type of sickness for the garden and keeps her blinds in the house down on that particular side so that she will not have to see it. At this point, the garden functions simply as a symbol of memory and mood. Finally, after Emma’s death, it is in the garden that the reader finds Charles, “[…] with his head leaning back against the wall, his eyes closed, his mouth open; and there was a long lock of black hair in his hands” (Flaubert 1249). The author uses the garden in this instance as a symbol of tragic irony.

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According to James Panero, Symbolism has always been stronger in its literary rather than graphic forms (3). Through examining the work of Flaubert, and his superb use of symbols and vivid descriptions, one could conclude this assumption to be true. Flaubert revolutionized fiction with his use of point of view to provide multiple images to provoke symbolic meanings (Smothers 3). Flaubert uses the garden as a poetic symbol in a variety of ways throughout his novel. It moves from the lighter tone of a character to assuming darker qualities that foreshadow Emma’s increasing involvements. The garden also carries a sexual connotation and often becomes a thematic symbol. It would not be a far stretch to say that the garden in this novel has become a conventional symbol, meaning that people have to come to accept it as standing for something other than its literal meaning (Barnet 212).


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