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Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary are both tales

of women indignant with their domestic situations; the distinct differences

between the two books can be found in the authors’ unique tones. Both authors

weave similar themes into their writings such as, the escape from the monotony

of domestic life, dissatisfaction with marital expectations and suicide.

References to "fate" abound throughout both works. In The Awakening,

Chopin uses fate to represent the expectations of Edna Pontellier’s aristocratic

society. Flaubert uses "fate" to portray his characters’ compulsive

methods of dealing with their guilt and rejecting of personal accountability.

Both authors, however seem to believe that it is fate that oppresses these

women; their creators view them subjectively, as if they were products of their

respective environments. Chopin portrays Edna as an object, and she receives

only the same respect as a possession. Edna’s husband sees her as and looks,

"…at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which

has suffered some damage." (P 2 : The Awakening) Chopin foils their

marriage in that of the Ratignolles who, "…understood each other

perfectly." She makes the classic mistake of comparing one’s insides with

others’ outsides when she thinks, "If ever the fusion of two human begins

into one has been accomplished on this sphere it was surely in their

union." (P 56 : The Awakening) This sets the stage for her unhappiness,

providing a point of contrast for her despondent marriage to Mr. Pontellier. She

blames their marriage for their unhappiness declaring that, "…a wedding

is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth." (P 66 : The Awakening)

She sees their lifetime pledge to fidelity and love as merely a social trap; the

same forces that bind them oppress her. Simultaneously, Mademoiselle Reisz, who

"…sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column…" which

perhaps is the tremor that marks the beginning of Edna’s self discovery. "A

certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, – the light which, showing

the way, forbids it." (P 13 : The Awakening) As she explores her world,

other men, swimming, and her other romantic pursuits, she experiences her

epiphany; she finds that the world has much to offer and kills herself in the

lamentation of that which she cannot truly have. Edna finds herself filled with

"An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar

part of her consciousness…She did not sit there inwardly upbraiding her

husband, lamenting at Fate, which had directed her footsteps to the path which

they had taken." (P 6 : The Awakening) Edna takes an active part in finding

happiness within her world. She pursues her swimming and other men in the

interest of ending the monotony she lives with as a result of her being confined

into her aristocratic society. Emma Bovary, being both protagonist and

antagonist, by contrast experiences her epiphany solely at death. She takes the

arsenic when she realizes all that she will not get from what she already has.

Her light of discovery is found only in the darkness of her death. She laments

not what she does not possess, but what happiness her world does not give her.

Hers is a story of spiritual emptiness and foolish idealism. "…Emma tried

to find out what one meant exactly in life by the words bliss, passion, ecstasy,

that had seemed to her so beautiful in books." (P 24 : Madame Bovary) She

searches for that which is found in the fantasy world of books in her own world

and falls short of her expectations. Charles, her husband, she takes for granted

as "She would have done so to the logs in the fireplace or to the pendulum

of the clock." (P 44 : Madame Bovary) Flaubert allows her to see Charles as

an object just as Mr. Pontellier sees his wife as an object. Although the

characters are of the opposite sex, leaving both of the women displeased with

their men, and moreover, their lives. Edna and Emma both use people (Emma is

also used herself) when needed, and are discarded when they have outlived their

usefulness: "Charles was someone to talk to, an ever-open ear, an

ever-ready approbation. She even confided many a thing to her greyhound!"

Emma treats Charles as her personal dog, she uses him as she uses everyone else

in the book. Perhaps it is because of her antagonistic nature that, "She

would open his letters, spy on his whereabouts, and listen behind the partition

when there were women in his consulting room." (P 35 : Madame Bovary) It is

ironic that she would do these things, as she is the adulterer, searching to

assure herself that he is not doing the same harm to her which she is doing to

him. Through this paranoia, "Once lively, expansive, and generous, she had

become difficult, shrill voiced, and nervous as she grew older, like uncorked

wine which turns to vinegar." (P 30 : Madame Bovary) As she sours in her

downward spiral she takes those from whom she would reap happiness with her.

Both women indulge in their new findings, and subjectively fall into their

desires. Flaubert compares Emma with a martyr as, "…she looked at the

pious vignettes edged in azure in her book, and she loved the sick lamb, the

Sacred heart pierced with sharp arrows, and poor Jesus stumbling as He walked

under His cross… She attempted to think of some vow to fulfill." Emma

indeed carries her own cross, but she does not stand for anything but her own

greed; "…she stays home darning his socks. And so bored! Longing to live

in town and dance a polka every night. Poor little woman. Gasping for love, like

a carp on a kitchen table gasping for water." Indeed, Emma has almost as

much sense as the carp, her mind reduced to only fulfilling her carnal desires.

She wants to feel nothing: "She was in a blissful state of numbness. Her

soul sank deeper into this inebriation and was drowned in it…" (P 188 :

Madame Bovary) Because living brings her only disappointment she is only

pacified when she is comfortably numb. When she finally discovers that her

feelings are as empty as her desires and that her desires are as empty as her

relationships she kills herself. The Awakening and Madame Bovary both have

nearly identical subject matter; distinct from one another only by the authors’

tones. Two passive women are subjected to situations where they feel oppressed

and constrained. They have extramarital affairs and explore their worlds. At the

ends, they die at their own hands. Chopin sees her protagonist in the light of

sympathy, using literature as a device portraying her characters in a

sympathetic light. Flaubert, using nearly the same characters, produced a

300-page soap opera, having once described literature as Athe dissection of a

beautiful woman with her guts in her face, her leg skinned, and half a

burned-out cigar lying on her foot"


his tone is apparent in his commentary. The two stories are actually quite

identical, as if two different narrators had told the same tale.


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