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The characters in the stories, mainly Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary, serve to create the argument that the authors are trying to get across. Because some things are more important to Flaubert, while other things need more attention for Chopin, there will be differences within the purpose of the character, and therefore within the character itself. Yet the similarities between Emma and Edna are somewhat striking. An article by Bernard J. Paris describes the narcissistic aspects of Emma's life and how, although she is influenced by the romantic novels, there are more factors to her grandeur. There are hints of her father treating her as more than she was and the environment of the convent helped her to believe in soul changing spirituality. These add to the romanticism seen in her novels and daydreams, and all help to create the sense inside of her that she belongs in a higher social position. Patricia S. Yaeger explains the psychological aspects of Chopin's piece, especially with Edna, who chose to follow the "voice" of the sea as opposed to the voice of reason, Dr. Mandelet. Edna is also portrayed as selfish and whimsical. The two have been described as women who do not think of the consequences of their actions; Emma with her financial failures and Edna with her rebellions. Elizabeth LeBlanc relates Edna as a "Creole Bovary", reaffirming the similarities one can see within the two novels, as well as a "selfish, capricious woman". Although the women are fairly similar in their structure, the men they are married to, and the women's approaches to them, are quite different. Jacob A. Arlow and D. Baudry Francis describe the anger that Emma holds for Charles and his boring and dull life. The article explains the reasons for Emma's anger and come up with Freud's "Taboo of Virginity" complemented by the narcissistic rage and sense of entitlement that Emma holds. The "Taboo of Virginity" is described as the fear of a man to be sexually attracted to a woman and then fail to please her, as well as the frustrations of a woman with sexual prohibition and penis envy. Nothing like this could be said of Edna. Despite Edna completely ignoring common sense social values, such as the marriage of her sister, or living in the house of her husband, she does not rebel as an act of anger towards her husband. For example, when she begins to paint she undermines her husband's self-esteem and social status because it would seem to the outside world that Edna needs to paint because her family needs the money (Muirhead, Marion). Edna is not entirely conscious of what she did by painting and buying the pigeon house, there are a few slight rebellions towards Léonce, but not fury or disgust. Muirhead helps to show how Chopin looks down on the values that society holds, while still understanding the importance of upholding those values in the novel. Edna seeks independence from her husband, while Emma wishes to have a love from him that she has found in the romance novels of her younger years. This leads to the affairs of the two women, which are much more similar than their situations with their husbands. Rudolphe and Alcée represent the men who are sexual escapes for Emma and Edna, respectively. Leon and Robert are men who the women feel more connected to and would choose over their husbands. Although there are some differences in the beginnings and ends of these affairs, the idea is the same for them. Similarities with characters end here, as Dr. Mandelet and Homais provide a large contrast to the purpose of the two novels. Carole Stone explains the importance of children and birth, and how Chopin disagrees with the idea that women do not have control over their own bodies. This is seen by the assertion that women must first give their bodies to the birth of their children, and then give themselves to their children. Chopin's dislike for this is augmented by the fact that women could not even choose from whom they get their pleasure. Dr. Mandelet is a man who is more knowledgeable about women's feelings than most because of his status as a physician and mental doctor in the book. He offers to help Edna when he realizes the struggle she is going through with her independence. As a complete contrast, Homais is a shady character who does not care at all about Emma or Charles, and uses them to keep his practice from being tainted. This is a part of Flaubert changing his tactics to show how ridiculous the bourgeoisie is and how, realistically, men can selfish and uncaring when it comes to ambition.
The circumstances of the women, despite their character similarities, tend to differ due to the Flaubert changing tactics to criticize the middle class. Chopin tends to stay focused on Edna and her liberation, yet she goes into more depth with her as a woman than Flaubert does for Emma. Ion K. Collas states a different view of the major critics, who say that Madame Bovary is a satire that criticizes the romantic disillusionment of Flaubert's time period. The new view given by Collas gives much more room to explain the psychological aspects of Emma's life instead of the direct satire that some see in the novel. Collas believes that there is more to what is happening in the novel than just criticism to a romantic view of life. This deeper view can be seen as Flaubert's attempt to look down upon social hierarchies and ambition, which occasionally overtake the question of feminism within his novel. Contrary to Flaubert's realistic view of the things happening to Emma, Chopin uses description and symbols, including birds, the sea, and the awakening, to express her views. Donald A. Ringe describes such images that are presented in the novel. He begins with describing the term "awakening" as not simply a sexual awakening, but one that holds something deeper, or one that could be a drastic change for the character that is having the revelation. He also describes the images of the city and the sea and their contrasting symbolic meanings. The sea represents something that is infinite, but also doubles in allowing a character to look deeply into his or her mental self. In contrast, the city is full of different ideologies and social bounds, which is why, after learning to swim in the sea, Edna basically rejects the entire process. The circumstances that Edna finds herself in because of the symbols Chopin has created for her contrast to the financial and social ruin that Flaubert puts Emma through.
Xianfeng Mou's article depicts many ways and levels to look at the writings of Chopin. She analyzes the free indirect discourse within The Awakening, in which the character and the narrator can share different opinions in one sentence. Henry H. Weinberg describes the way free indirect discourse and irony are tied closely together in Flaubert's Madame Bovary, creating a possible third voice besides the narrator and the character. Mou explains the different levels of the awakenings that Edna goes through and how the critics of the novel view them, showing the direction Chopin wished to go with Edna. Yaeger discusses the value of language within the text, and how Edna uses and reacts to language. An important point she gives to think about is that Edna has somewhat of a language of her own, one that she cannot express because she cannot go to the two extremes that society presents her with. This is ultimately her demise, and what Chopin is protesting. The nature of Flaubert and what his life was like change the situation for him. There are claims that Flaubert's mother intended him to write the novel to cure him of his own romantic delusions. This could contribute to the sympathy for Emma, as Flaubert was going through the feelings himself (Steegmuller, Francis). However, it is well known that Flaubert disliked the bourgeoisie, and that is apparent within the book. To his family, it is a cure for the romanticism in his own life, but for him, the book is used to show dislike of the societal hierarchy he had in his day.
Chopin uses descriptive imagery and symbols to show the importance of independence in Edna's life. Flaubert uses realism to depict the problems facing Emma and how they add to the failures of the social class system. While some characters and circumstances are similar for the two authors, major differences arise when Flaubert tangents to criticize social hierarchy and Chopin goes to a deeper level of finding independence. These differences could be a factor of their upbringing, or perhaps even their gender. Because Chopin and Flaubert held different ideas to create a tone of disdain towards women's oppression, their stories differed. However, the point was the same, and the eventual ruin of each character signifies the disheveled social order and the harm of forcing women to keep their place in that order.
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