Honore de Balzacs’ novel Eugenie Grandet is an accurate reflection of the time period it is set within. In this book women are oppressed almost to the fullest extent possible, even women and girls of the highest social status, such as the young Eugenie and her mother Madame Grandet. Women are treated as the weaker sex; being totally and utterly dominated by the male characters such as monsieur Grandet himself (Felix.) The female characters in this Balzac classic live such oppressed lives, that being submissive to the men in their lives has now become a part of their nature. It is said that, ‘none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free’. In other words the female characters in this novel are so overpowered by the men in their lives that they are no longer conscious of it, thusly they can never be free.
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It can be said that Eugenie loves her father dearly, even though he is the sole oppressor in her life. Perhaps it can be said that she loves him only from a daughterly perspective and nothing more. Eugenie’s love for her father seems to be of a superficial nature, as it would seem; Eugenies’ love for Felix is no more than a mere mix of fear and respect, which is unwillingly forced from her and expected from her at some level. Besides coming from a privileged background, there really seems to be no upside to poor Eugenie’s miserable life. Her primary suitors for marriage seem to only be interested in her because of her wealth, status, and most importantly her connection to Monsieur Grandet himself. However, if there was ever an upside to young Eugenie’s situation, it would be the already strong bond between Eugenie and her mother being continually strengthened as they are both victims of Grandets’ oppression. As they both face the same oppressive situation together, they feel one another’s silenced pains and emotional hurt deep down inside. As a result they are both drawn together to confide within, and support one another.
Eugenie found it impossible to avoid her fate, being born into a vicious cycle of male domination and greediness. Eugenie’s only chance to escape her lifetime of oppression and submissiveness lies within her realization; If Eugenie were to realize the true meaning of equality (between sexes) she would be closer to freedom, and escaping her merciless existence.
Themes of superb male domination are exceedingly consistent through out the tale; and are perfectly illustrated near the end when Eugenie continues to live in the miserly manner she was raised in. Father Grandet had such a strangle-hold on Eugenie’s’ life that she continued to follow his in his footsteps and abide by his instructions even after he was dead. Instead of allowing herself to be free for the first time in her life, she felt obligated to live by the old misers’ words even though he could no longer get to her. Perhaps this is because she had grown too accustomed to her unhappy lifestyle to change it now, or perhaps it was the heartbreaking news of Charles’ engagement to another woman that left her with a dead-feeling on the inside and numb to everything in life.
Eugenie was a true victim and perfect illustration of an oppressed female of her time, considering she was raised in a manner that allowed her to be susceptible and predisposed to the ill-treatment she received. Having lived a life of being shielded from the inevitable hardships of life she was naïve to the world outside her front doors. She had lived all her life sheltered by her parents, and secluded to the confines of the house which she would rarely leave, and when she did it was only to attend church service. As fate would have it, she eventually did fall victim to the outside world, as represented by Charles’ new lover and his breaking of their engagement and promised plans for the future.
Eugenie definitely became a product of her environment; as she was nurtured to be as docile, and obedient as can be. This can be seen very clearly when she looks back at Grandet for his permission when accepting a birthday present from her guest. This very same concept is seen once again when Eugenie prepares a special breakfast for her secret infatuation Charles. She is ecstatic with emotions and fearful at the same time hoping that Charles will be able to enjoy her meal before her father comes home because, she knows that Grandet himself would disapprove of this gesture and would deem it ‘excessive.’ Grandets’ oppression extends beyond Eugenie to Madame Grandet as well, and can be seen when she tells Eugenie that she will assume full responsibility for everything, should Monsieur Grandet return home early. They have become so oppressed that they have come to accept whatever role Grandet imposes on them, they have never felt as though they have a right to shape and direct their lives, they are constantly questioning whether Grandet will approve of their actions, no matter how big or small.
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As wealthy and privileged as Eugenie was, she was limited to the life of a pauper, living in a very poorly maintained house. The poor condition of the house and her excruciatingly depressing lifestyle can be said to be reflective of the way she truly feels on the inside about her life in general. It is likely that from the moment she was born, Eugenie was forced to accept her fathers every deed and every word to be righteous. It is also very likely that Eugenie is more filled with the sentiments of fear and intimidation towards her father than she is loving to him. Throughout the novel, Monsieur Grandets’ character was portrayed as a tight-fisted penny-pinching miser who had the best of intentions for his only daughter however; this very concrete image may have been skewed when, he so cunningly scammed Eugenie into signing over her share of property (which was inherited after her mother’s untimely death.) Eugenie thinks her father is completely trustworthy and always has her best interests at heart, as result she blindly obeys his every directive. Out of fear, she is never able to question his authority or her own passiveness.
The novel Eugenie Grandet is an accurate reflection of its time period which reveals that, Balzac may have been a writer ahead of his time in trying to make his readers realize the dire consequences of oppression and inequality between sexes.
It would be fair to say that being surrounded by death and oppression all her life may have left her with a profoundly deep feeling of dissatisfaction; a feeling as though life was no longer worth living. It may just have been too late for Eugenie to find out what it would be like to live a life of happiness and joyousness; a life that would bring tremendous feelings of self worth to her. Here, Balzac brings a terribly sad sense of irony to the story, considering that Eugenie would never have to work a day in her life to support herself. The possibilities are now endless in Eugenie’s life due to her vast sums of money and financial assets. With no one left in her life to oppress her, or tell her how to live or behave, allows Eugenie the rare chance to live a fulfilling life in whatever manner she chooses. Unfortunately her experiences in life (especially with men) have left her distrusting of everyone and almost resentful of life itself. It seems that the only person she trusts is her faithful servant Big Nanon who loves her dearly. Balzac shows his readers that it is possible to live a horribly depressing life filled with tragedy even if you are at the top of the status/ class pyramid.
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