Madame Bovary

How is the subject of class addressed in Madame Bovary?

Madame Bovary

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Emma's search for identity and fulfillment also centers on issues of class. Soon after she marries Charles and realizes that she cannot find contentment in her relationship with him, she begins to buy things for the house and for herself. Emma's spending, however, soon puts the family in debt. When she attends the ball at La Vaubyessard, Emma sees for the first time, "the complexion of wealth" that characterizes the upper class. From that point on, Emma desperately tries to become a part of that world through her relationship with Rodolphe and through extravagant purchases.

Emma's desire to move up in class leads to disaster for those around her as well as herself. She transfers her ambitions to Charles, who determines that he can perform a new surgery on clubfoots. However, when he performs the untested operation on a local man, he botches the procedure, which results in the amputation of the patient's leg.

When she realizes that Charles will never help them move above their station, her extravagant spending increases to the point of financial ruin. In a desperate attempt to acquire money and thus to save herself from the public humiliation of the auctioning off of her property, she tries to prostitute herself. When that tactic fails, Emma finds suicide her only recourse. Her death devastates Charles, who dies soon after, and Berthe, their child, becomes orphaned and impoverished.