Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and The Awakening by Kate Chopin both show the life of a woman in a half-dreamy stupor, overzealously running around looking for something but not knowing what it is they are looking for. They feel immensely dissatisfied with the lives they are stuck with and find suicide to be the only alternative. The two books, Madame Bovary, written in 1857 and The Awakening, written in 1899, both have the theme of confinement and free-will, yet differ vastly with respect to the yearnings of the main characters.
In addition, Edna and Emma, the protagonists of Madame Bovary and The Awakening respectively, are faced with a conflict between external oppression and their own free will, which eventually leads them to take their lives. Edna and Emma have vastly different yearnings yet similar reasons for suicide. Ednas and Emmas yearnings are vastly different, if not opposite. Edna yearns for an uncontrolled lifestyle because her current lifestyle leaves her feeling like a possession. She yearns to break that label; she fights to do as she wishes.
Her moving into the Pigeon house, shedding of layers of restrictive clothing, and having affairs with Robert and Arobin show this feeling of confinement. Emma, on the other hand, wants to indulge in what Edna fights against; she wants to be owned and attempts to achieve self-fulfillment through romantic attachments, whereas Edna wants to break away from all attachment, especially family and society. Emmas yearnings are shown through her affairs with Leonce and Rudolphe, her unrestricted spending of money, and through her thoughts and feelings of discontent.
Emma yearned to escape the monotony of her life; she coveted sophistication, sensuality, and passion, and lapsed into extreme boredom when her life did not fit the model of what she believed it should be. Emma merged her dream world with reality without knowing it in order to survive the monotony of her existence, while ultimately destroying her. It is not her intellect, but her capacity to dream and to wish to transform the world to fit her dreams, which sets her apart from Edna. For instance, at the scene where Emma and Charles go to the La Vanbyessards chteau, Emma is awestruck by a fat, uncouth, upperclassman.
At the head of the table, alone among the ladies, an old man sat hunched over his filled plate, wearing his napkin around his neck like a child and letting drops of gravy fall from his mouth as he ateHe was the Marquis father-in-law, the old Duc de Laverdire; He had led a life of wild debauch, filled with duels, wagers and abducted women, squandered all his money, and horrified his whole family Emmas eyes kept turning back to this pendulous-lipped old man as though he were an extraordinary and awe-inspiring sight. He had lived at court and gone to bed with queens! (Flaubert 42)
This is evidence of her inability to see things as they really are because of the merger between reality and her dream world; the man is old, fat, uncouth, dirty, and snobbish, yet Emma is awestruck by him. Emma cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. In reality, the man is wearing his napkin around his neck like a child and letting drops of gravy fall from his mouth as he [eats]. (Flaubert 42), yet Emma sees him to be an extraordinary and awe-inspiring sight. He had lived at court and gone to bed with queens! (Flaubert 42). Emma is infatuated with royalty and nobility.
She sheds any sort of rational thought and finds the old man awe-inspiring merely because he was nobility. He was the Marquis Father-in-law, the old Duc de Laverdire.. (Flaubert 42). Because of this lack of rationality, she assumes automatically that He had led a life of wild debauch, filled with duels, wagers and abducted women, squandered all his money, and horrified his whole family. (Flaubert 42). This shows her inability to see past her romantic idealisms that lead to her to trust Roudophe and the moneylender, eventually leading to her downfall.
This fusion between fantasy and reality, which causes her shortsightedness and leads to her eventual downfall, can be attributed to Emmas fervent romanticism. The model she tries to emulate, of which her inability to do so also leads to her suicide, is one filled with exuberant romanticism. Her inveterate romanticisms can be traced back to her childhood. Emma was put in a convent when she was a little girl. Inside the convent, she began to embrace romance novels, which filled her mind with thoughts of sophistication, sensuality, passion, love, lust, and other romantic thoughts.
For example, she read The Genius of Christianity in the convent. How intently she listened, the first few times, to the sonorous lamentations of that romantic melancholy expressing itself again and again in all the echoes of this world and the next! (Flaubert 31). The reason for this love of novels can be associated with her yearning to leave the convent. Romanticism was her escape from the cold walls of the convent. Instead of following mass, she look at the blue-bordered religious pictures in her book; she loved the sick sheep, the Sacred Heart pierced by sharp arrows, and poor Jesus stumbling and falling beneath his cross.
Flaubret 30). Religious services are a major part in a convent; yet, Emma did not follow mass like she was supposed to. She instead daydreamed and, in a sense, mentally left the convent. Her daydreaming was an attempt to leave the restrictions of the convent. Nearly the same thing occurred in the marriage between Emma and Charles. The monotony and entrapment of Emma in the relationship lead to her dependence on romanticism and dreaming as an escape. Emmas struggle toward romantic attachment and fantasy-like perfection contrasts greatly with Ednas need for an unhindered lifestyle.
Edna wants to break the label she has been given by society; she fights to do as she wishes. Little by little she breaks free of society’s’ image. Her yearning to break free from societys image is shown by her shedding of layers of restrictive Victorian clothing, her affairs with Arobin and Robert, and her moving into the pigeon house, the biggest step in her attempt to break away from the social conventions of her time. Edna moved from her mansion to the pigeon-house because she yearned to live on her own, think on her own, and to be an individual, away from obligation imposed on her by society.
Every step which she took towards relieving herself from obligation, added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. (Chopin 165). The move to the pigeon house was an attempt to free herself from obligation to her family and society and was an attempt to increase her individuality, independence, and to understand life on a more profound level.
Living on her own allowed her To see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life (Chopin 165), something that she could not do in the confinement of home; her imposed role as a mother and wife disallowed her to do so. By moving into the pigeon house, she is attempting to live a life reflecting her new philosophies, philosophies that are in conflict with that of society and lead to her downfall. Edna and Emma, despite being different in their yearnings, share similarities in their reasons for suicide.
They both cannot live with the lives that they attempt to create for themselves. Edna cannot figure out how to live with the complexity of the freedom she has fought so hard to establish for herself. By firmly deciding to live outside of society, Edna did not posses the courageous soul that dares and defies (Chopin 190), and thereby found herself with few alternatives. Since she could not formulate one, and since she refused to go back to her old world of being a mother and wife, rather than be forced to live in such a world of tyranny and repression, she chooses death.
In death, there are no expectations, no one to impress or be proper for, and most importantly, she has no one to answer to, except herself. Just like her moving into the pigeon house, her Every step which she took towards relieving herself from obligation, added to her strength and expansion as an individual. (Chopin 156). Death is the ultimate break from obligation; in death, there are no obligations. Edna’s freedom takes place in death. This is the choice that social convention allows her. Financial devastation, combined with this second betrayal by Rodolphe, leaves Emma with only one option: death.
Her own shortsightedness created an abject scenario. Just like Edna, she created a scenario that she could not handle. Her ability to transform the world to fit her dreams allowed her to escape the monotony of her life, but when the supports of her dream world collapsed, she herself collapsed. She became cynical and pessimistic and lost the will to live. Emma began to realize that everything she leaned on instantly crumble into dust (Flaubert 245). Nothing she believed to be true was really true – Rodolphe and Leonce never really loved her.
Even the moneylender played her weakness and took advantage of her. Emma realized also that her romantic idealisms could never be filled; that though a man like that may exist, she could never find him. But if somewhere there existed a strong, handsome man with valorous, passionate and refined nature, a poet’s soul in the form of an angel, a lyre with strings of bronze intoning elegiac nuptial songs to the heavens, why was it not possible that she might meet him some day No, it would never happen! (Flaubert 245). Emma loses all hope, and falls into a deep state of depression.
Besides, nothing was worth seeking-everything was a lie! Each smile hid a yawn of boredom, each joy a curse each pleasure its own disgust; and the sweetest kisses only left on one’s lips a hopeless longing for a higher ecstasy! (Flaubert 245). This loss of hope due to the crumbling of the foundations of her dream world and her inability to emulate the model she set for herself led to her suicide. This is similar to Edna in that Ednas inability to achieve total independence forced her to commit suicide rather than be forced to live in such a world of tyranny and repression.