In Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, the novel explores the themes of love and marriage, the unrealistic ideals of women, and the resulting dissatisfaction she faces due to these themes.
As a child, Emma fully immerses herself into the world of romance novels consequently leading her to have unrealistic expectations of love and marriage. Because the novels Emma reads portray a woman’s appearance rather than the actual experience of love as important, Emma’s perception of love becomes distorted and indistinguishable from the reality of love. Although Emma is fascinated with the idea of love, she inevitably does not find herself ever truly loving individuals. Because of this, Emma marries Charles, a dull man, in hopes of satisfying her desire for unrealistic romance. Not soon after, Emma becomes very bored with married life and realizes that,“before marriage she thought herself in love; but the happiness that should have followed this love not having come, she must, she thought, have been mistake[n]”(46).
Charles could potentially make Emma happy, but “Emma fails to see in Charles her unsuspecting Romeo because she prefers instead to fall for cardboard ones”(Orr 108). Charles’ inadequacy shields him from pushing forward to a higher social level that might save his marriage. But his lethargy shields him from being a better husband. Emma’s view on marriage also becomes distorted as she wishes to experience the immoral relationships in her novels. Contrary to Emma, Charles stays loyal to her and “never dreamed of pleasure,” but “now [it] made up the endless round of his happiness” (45). Meanwhile, Emma is yearning to imitate the passion displayed in her novels. This prompts her affair with the wealthy landowner, Rodolphe. Rodolphe is a canny and pessimistic bachelor who spends his time seducing and having affairs with women. Emma falls in love with Rodolphe’s superficial act and tries to hold on to their doomed relationship.
Due to Rodolphes unrequited feelings, “[Emma] tries to be ever more physically alluring, but becomes jealous and desperate as she feels she is losing”(Meyer 60). Rodolphe then writes her a letter severing ties of the affair completely. Emma then begins a second affair with a law clerk named Leon. Initially Leon and Emma have many similarities; for instance, he is similarly bored with his life. Leon travels to Paris for three years, but when he comes back he boasts about his romantic conquests and finally admits his love for Emma. Emma concludes that she is “in love with Leon, and [seeks] solitude that she might with more ease delight in his image”(136). Like all of Emma’s relationships, Leon and Emma’s affair subsequently loses the excitement it once had. Emma longs to have the ideal life of romance that does not include marriage. Ultimately, Emma’s actions show that she feels as if her marriage is illegitimate. Dissatisfaction with conjugal lives causes her actions of infidelity and passionate betrayal throughout her life.
Even for those who are happy with their lives fall under judgement in an overwhelmingly male society that predisposes infidelity as a path for autonomy and an entryway toward freedom. Charles speculates that Emma is having an unsanctioned romance, yet, because of his idealism and naivete, he overlooks his suspicions and continues to believe that she is wholefully dedicated to him. Be that as it may, after her suicide he discovers her adulterous letters and “his own broken heart, [is] an echo of the letter Rodolphe had sent Emma”(Schlossman 96). The lack of communication between a couple during this time period makes the characters search for adoration and comprehension outside of their own homes, consequently adding to their traitorousness.