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The True Meaning Of Madame Bovary, Lain Bare: The Close Passage Analysis Of All Time

(Senior year of high school)


The context of this passage is that it is between two red covers, one of which has a picture of the title character on it and the other of which has a short summary of the book’s merits. It is printed on grade 4 newsprint in a serif font.

In this passage, Flaubert utilizes certain written symbols representative of sounds made in human speech called “letters,” grouped into internationally recognized representations of actions, attributes, things or concepts called “words,” to portray the Bovarys’ financial arrangements. This fits with one of the major themes of human history, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” This passage also has tons of sexual imagery. Great big heaping gobs of it.

My passage can be found in any reputable edition of Madame Bovary, but in the one most of you are using it begins on page 236 and also ends there.

Charles, at his wits’ end, soon resorted to the ever-present Lheureux, who swore he would smooth things over if Monsieur would sign two notes, one for seven hundred francs payable in three months. Charles wrote his mother a desperate letter asking her to help him. Instead of sending a reply she came herself; and when Emma asked him if he had gotten anything out of her, he replied, “Yes, but she wants to see the bill.”

The next day at dawn, Emma hurried to Monsieur Lheureux and begged him to make out another not for not more than a thousand francs, because if she were to show the one for four thousand she would have to say she had already paid two-thirds of it and therefore admit she had sold the house; the shopkeeper handled the transaction quite skillfully, and it did not become known until later.

The first word Flaubert uses is “Charles.” If you squint at the word “Charles,” it looks like a Honda del Sol with no wheels. Since, as we know, only people from backward places like Yonville and Appalachia keep their cars without wheels, this shows Charles’ provincialism, and why he is oblivious to Emma’s desires to live in the city. The fact that it resembles a del Sol, which is a car primarily purchased by people who wish that they had enough money to buy a Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder, shows that Charles wishes to improve his financial status. Next Flaubert tells us that Charles is “at his wits’ end.” This shows that Charles has not thought for very long, at least by a normal person’s standards. This carelessness on the part of Charles foreshadows the Big Ten Athletic Conference’s decision to admit Penn State: both decisions show a lack of foresight and good judgment. Indeed, Flaubert makes explicit references to the inclusion of Penn State in the Big Ten being a horrible thing for the United States throughout the novel and several times from beyond the grave in the introduction, but unfortunately they are secret and I have sworn to the United States government not to tell them to you.

Further on, Flaubert employs three successive words with the letter “o” in them: “soon resorted to.” The association of the exclamation “O!” with surprise confirms that Charles has been taken completely aback by this recent turn of events. In addition, this could be a reference to Hamlet’s exclamation upon his death in the Bad Quarto edition, which would imply that the character of Charles has some subtlety that Flaubert has decided not to show us for artistic expediency.

Further on in this sentence Flaubert first mentions the name “Lheureux.” The unpronounceability of this name is in accord with the inscrutability of the man. The accompanying fact that his name means “Mister Happy” in English, which is an obvious reference to the character Chucky (“I’m Chucky! Wanna play?”) in the “Child’s Play” horror movie series, shows his inherent evilness. In addition, the two tall letters “l” and “h” at the beginning of his name are an image of the phallicism inherent in Lheureux’s character. This sexual undercurrent is further reinforced when, just a few words further on, Lheureux swears that he will “smooth things over.” If one says this in the proper tone of voice it can be mistaken for an invitation to sexual intercourse. Flaubert also says that Lheureux “swore.” The fact that this word is merely the popular, benign campfire treat “‘smore” with the second letter cruelly inverted shows that underneath that surface veneer of respectability lies a hard, severe, veneered man.

Flaubert then uses numbers to characterize the notes issued. The “two,” as in the number of notes, refers to Lheureux’s intended sexual conjunction with Charles. Next, the notes are made out for “seven hundred francs.” The combination of the lucky number seven with the solidity of the number “100” in our base-ten numerical system refers both to Charles’s perception of his ability to pay off the debts when they came due and Lheureux’s perception of his ability to score. Finally, the number “three,” here uses to designate the number of months in which the notes are to be paid off, refers back to Emma’s failed experience trying to appreciate the Holy Trinity, and in referring to this failure foreshadows Charles and Emma’s inability to pay the notes off.

Next Flaubert shows Charles’s massive Oedipal complex. Under this pressure from Lheureux both financially and sexually, Charles writes “a desperate letter” to his mother “asking her to help him.” She then comes in person. This shows that the sexual undercurrents of Charles’s dilemma have not escaped her; she knows she must be there in person to help Charles extract himself from this predicament. The use of the letters “lp” in the word “help,” with its contrasting up- and down-thrusting letters, reinforces the idea of sexual relations between Charles and Lheureux by showing two phalluses.

In the next part of the passage, anagrams made out of the key phrases become particularly important. The first such key phrase is when Emma asks Charles “if he had gotten anything out of her.” The obvious anagram is “Oh-oh, differentiate naughty thong.” This shows that Emma recognizes Charles’s Oedipal complex and is trying to suppress it so that Lheureux can have whatever it is that he wants with Charles. The words “naughty thong” in this anagram also imply a certain moral decay to Charles’s mother that was not previously apparent; it appears that everyone is a guilty party in this mess the Bovarys call a life. The word “differentiate” refers to the fact not only that Charles cannot differentiate between situations where he can express his Oedipal complex, however guiltily, and situations where he cannot; as a special bonus implication it reminds us all that, since Lheureux’s math skills are far superior to anyone else’s in the book and he is probably the only one with any calculus, he will ultimately be the one to “differentiate” the “naughty thong.”

Away from the anagram front for a moment, here is also the first time Flaubert uses the name “Emma.” If you squint at the name “Emma,” it looks like a train coming out of a tunnel (the train is going to the right — see?). This both portrays Emma’s desire to leave Yonville, by any means necessary, but also her desire for the Industrial Revolution to come into its full flower in France, which would provide her with railroads to utilize. If she rode on the railroads and the blind man tried to stick his hat in the window, his arm would be brutally and satisfyingly torn off when the train got up to speed and he was shaken from his position on the side of the train. Emma is intrigued by this thought (and the reader no less so).

Next Charles says, “Yes, but she wants to see the bill.” The anagram of this phrase is “She not buy whistleable testes.” If anything, this anagram is richer for analysis than the first one. In the first place, it reflects Charles’s mother’s innate skepticism about their financial situation. But the phrase “whistleable testes” is very interesting. Flaubert seems to be trying to impart a whimsical character to their financial and sexual dilemma. The fact that she refers to “testes,” though, obviously means that she is only talking about Monsieur Lheureux (rim shot). So possibly the “whistleable” could mean that Charles’s mother does not trust Lheureux to take the matter seriously, or to present it in as serious a light as it deserves; she may believe that the financial problems run deeper than on the “whistleable” surface. This sheds new light on her demand to see the bill.

The phrase at the beginning of the next paragraph, “next day,” rhymes with “vexed May,” an indication of Emma’s desire for spring to come — oh dear God I’ve got five seconds. Ahem. The rest of the passage contains imagery and diction of some kind and of only minor importance, yet which still manages to tie into the themes I stated earlier and to have profound implications for the rest of the book. Thank you.


You didn’t think I would let this end without the Special Bonus Joke, did you? Herewith I present the Madame Bovary Songbook.


Rodolphe the Shameful Playboy

(to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”)

Rodolphe the shameful playboy

Had some very lusty ways

He never kept his women

For more than one or two days

When Rodolphe first saw Emma,

His heart was filled with delight;

He said, “I’m gonna get that

Woman on my bed tonight!”

After some months he got tired,

And left her in the dust

Emma didn’t take it well,

She thought she’d descend into hell

Rodolphe had other women,

Whom he devoured with glee,

But none of them were as tasty

As pauvre Madame Bovary!


The Monsieur Homais Tribute Song

(to the Flintstones theme song)


Monsieur Homais

He maintains a village pharmacy

From the

Town of Yonville

He’s the leader at pomposity!

Let’s go get our clubfoots out for free!

Become just a single amputee!

When you’re

With Monsieur Homais

He will spout a lot of hot air

His brain is not there

You’ll have a boring time!


All this tasty writing ©2002-11 by Andrew Lindemann Malone. All rights reserved.