Elixir for Decayed Corruption
In Madame Bovary, Flaubert expresses the complications that give rise as a result of the unsatisfactory life of a young woman belonging to the socio-economic class. He directly introduces criticism of society’s antics through many different characters in the novel, each of which play a significant role in delivering his message. One such character is Homais, an apothecary in the town of Yonville. Although this character appears to at first be a simply an insignificant, nosy character, his corrupt and self-serving nature continues to be revealed through his interactions with the people he meets. The purpose of Homais’ character in the novel is very direct as he represents the hypocritical and cowardly nature of the masculine middle class. His character also enables the society to behave in a corrupt fashion, supporting Flaubert’s interpretation of civilization as equally corrupt. Flaubert establishes Homais’ character in the novel as a device in delivering his criticism and ridicule of the bourgeoisie and society as a whole during this time period.
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Initially, Homais’ character appears to act solely as a vehicle for Flaubert’s criticisms of the new, progressive middle class as cowardly and self serving. A significant manifestation of the corrupt and cowardly nature of Homais appears during a critical error he made causing the amputation of Hippolyte’s leg. Homais pretends that he wants to take rash actions to cure Hippolyte’s club foot purely for the benefit of Hippolyte, claiming that, “it’s not for me. It’s for you purely out of goodwill” (174). However it is revealed that Homais simply wanted to use Hippolyte’s injury as a stepping stone for his flourishing in the journalism activity. Homais’ deceitful and sly nature appears as he attempts to convince Hippolyte by providing false hope of being “more cheerful and agile” and even hints that women would be more pleased after the procedure (174). Homais is essentially the catalyst for the downfall of Hippolyte by using him for his own benefit and becoming taken over by greed. Flaubert criticizes the nature of the middle class to only take action when benefit comes for them. He expands on the loss of human goodwill and shows the decay and corruption that replaces compassion and benevolence. This incident regarding Hippolyte also depicts the cowardly nature of the middle class in the face of confrontation. After the rapid decline of Hippolyte’s health, a different doctor was summoned in an attempt to find a cure for Hippolyte. The doctor begins the criticize Charles’ actions stating that he was an “idiot who reduced an unfortunate man to such a state” (180). He continues on to derail Charles’ character exclaiming that “they load you down with remedies without worrying about the consequences”(180). In the midst of the doctor’s condemnation of Charles, Homais does not defend Charles even though he was the propeller of the action and essentially lays down his dignity for his greater interests. Homais does not take responsibility for his actions and instead simply observes others take the burden of the blame. His cowardly act manifests Flaubert’s interpretation of the nature of the middle class. Flaubert denounces how the priorities of the socio-economic class appears to be based on materialistic ideals rather than core human values such as dignity, pride, and honesty. Another incident that displays the corrupt self-serving nature of the middle class depicts by Flaubert is Homais’ treatment towards the blind beggar. Homais considers himself a cultured, intelligent, important man when in reality he is ultimately at the same level of the peasants and lower class he looks down on. Homais proceeds to regard the beggar with contempt describing him as “a scrofulous infection” and poses as an intelligent man by giving the beggar advice for his blind condition (280). A notable moment that exhibits the cowardly nature of Homais is the action he takes in retaliation to the blind beggar exposing the harmful actions Homais inflicts upon others in an attempt to add to his own benefit. Homais takes advantage of his resources to launch a “secret campaign” against the beggar, and ultimately succeeds in jailing the beggar in an asylum. His actions shows his resort to oppression of another man’s civil liberties in an attempt to protect his own reputation. Homais’ character acts as a representation of the corrupt and cowardly aspects of the bourgeoisie.
However, a depiction of Flaubert’s criticisms of society as a whole can be assumed to be an addition to the purpose behind the creation of Homais’ character. Ironically, Homais’ character is arguably one of the most corrupt in the novel, yet he is the only one who achieves his goal of social mobility. In comparison to characters who appear morally good such as Charles and Berthe Bovary who end up with tragic endings, Homais is able to achieve most if not all of his ambitions and goals. An example ofÂ Homais’ success is the fact presented that “he had just received the Legion of Honor” (322). Flaubert presents this fact in a blunt style as the last line of the novel leaving a foul taste in the reader’s mouths. Homais’ achievement is not shown to be a beautiful event but rather a small gain in comparison to the corrupt actions he had taken leading up to his success. As a result, Flaubert criticizes society in its capitulation towards society’s accolade to the most unethical figures. He condemns the mechanics behind society and essentially exposes the moral decay that is hidden underneath the gilded surface. Through Homais’ triumph in acquiring the Legion of Honor, Flaubert reveals the twisted nature of the mechanics behind society. He shows the disappointing reality that those who act in sly and immoral ways often times receive more benefit than those who live an honest life. Homais’ character depicts the segment of society through Flaubert’s perspective which prevents his evaluation from being truly objective.
Moreover, Flaubert attempts to depict the raw corrupt nature of Homais’ character through a satirical argument between Homais and the priest:
“Yet,” said Homais, “it can’t be both ways. Either she died in a state of grace (as the Church puts it), in which case she doesn’t need prayers; or she died unrepentant (I believe that’s the ecclesiastical term), and in that case-” Bournisien interrupted, replying in an irritable tone that one needed to pray, no matter what. “But,” the pharmacist objected, “since God knows all our needs, what’s the use of prayer?” “What do you mean?” asked the priest. “Prayer! Aren’t you a Christian?” “I beg your pardon,” said Homais. “I admire Christianity. In the first place, it freed the slaves, introduced into the world a morality-” “Never mind about that! All the texts-” “Texts, bah! Open up the history books. We know they were falsified by the Jesuits.” Charles came in and walked toward the bed. He drew the curtains back slowly. (305)
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In this piece of dialogue Homais engages in a argument with the priest about religion. This represents the clash in culture during the time between the new science ideas and the conservative ideas of centering life around religion. Homais continues to argue even in the presence of the deceased Emma Bovary. His disregard to the situation at hand shows how he doesn’t appear to have any respect towards Madame Bovary. Flaubert creates the satirical conversation between Homais and Bournisien in order to reveal the hypocritical nature of Homais in asserting that he is a religious man but proceeding to denounce the essence of religion. He presents himself as a holy man yet he objects to the statement by the priest that “prayer is needed no matter what”. Homais claims to “admire Christianity” but advocates modern ideas including Voltaire and science. Through the dialogue, Homais’ character is seen once more in negative light as a representation of the middle class. The insensitivity of Homais to the environment of the deceased is reflected in his insistence in continuing to partake in the squabble with the priest. Homais interrupts and blurts out his own uneducated ideas without giving consideration to the priest’s words. Another characteristic revealed is in how he disregards the dead in order to win the argument and therefore feel a sense of self-superiority. The childish antics performed by Homais shows the twisted order in his priorities to favor self over the traditional values of respect. As a result of Homais’ corruption, the moral decay has reached such a deep point in his character that he supports Flaubert’s intent in depicting the middle class as well as society.
Finally, Madame Bovary brings to light Flaubert’s dissection of society as corrupt and immoral through the character Homais. Throughout the novel Homais perpetrates many unethical actions that displays the mechanics of society through a single person. He reveals his cowardly and corrupt actions which supports the conclusion that his character was essentially devised to be used as a device for Flaubert’s heavy condemnation towards civilization. The novel also paves way into Flaubert’s analysis of a specific group, the bourgeoisie, to be equally Madame Bovary reveals the actions that give rise to the decay within the community. Through this manifestation, Flaubert delivers his denunciation of society and the middle class to be impure.
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