Scenes of Suicide – A Comparison between Madame Bovary and the Awakening Essay Sample
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Scenes of Suicide – A Comparison between Madame Bovary and the Awakening Essay Sample
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening the death scenes of both novels are one of the most essential scenes. There are, in these scenes many major similarities and differences. Both suicides arise from related circumstances. Emma from Madame Bovary, and Edna from The Awakening are two women who suffer from the monotony of domestic life and dissatisfaction with their marital lives. Yet chief differences lie within the different meanings of the respect deaths that the two dissimilar women hold. The death scenes of the two protagonists (who are also sometimes the antagonists) can be compared through the circumstances and motivations that drive them to commit suicide, and the language and the structure that Flaubert and Chopin use to illustrate the death scenes.
Their deaths parallel one another in that their discontent with their lives leads them to commit suicide. Edna is bored with life, much like Emma, and cannot find any satisfaction with her husband. Lence, who is solely concerned with his business, views Edna as nothing more than another possession. Early in the novel Chopin states that he looks “…at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.” Emma also lives a life of boredom with a husband who treats her like a prize as seen when Flaubert writes, “Charles began to feel rather pleased with himself for possessing such a fine wife.” (Flaubert, 32) This leads both of them to commit adultery, as they look outward for a means of solace (more so for Emma). But when their lovers leave them, and they are left with little else to live for, they are driven to suicide.
Even through there are similarities in their situations, striking differences arise from the basis of their desires-unattainable desires that propel them to kill themselves. Emma cannot stand her current life, which seems to her dull and repetitious. She yearns for a new life filled with the riches and wealth of the upper class, and fantasizes about living the life of someone else because of her unhappiness with reality. Unfortunately, because of this, her fantasies are not part of a passing phase, but an undying obsession; it seems that she will never be completely satisfied with any life.
Edna also has superficial yearnings, yet unlike Emma she does not dream of being someone else and thus her psyche is much healthier. Edna’s fantasies are based on emotions that she has actually felt while Emma’s stem from her boredom with the life she is living. Flaubert describes Emma’s sentimentality in four pages of beautiful prose and style: “…while beyond, as far as the eye could see, there unfurled the immense kingdom of pleasure and passion. The sighing in the moonlight, the long embracing, the tears flowing down on to the hands of the one forsaken, all the fevers of the flesh and the tender anguish of loving-none of these could be had without a balcony in some great tranquil chateau, without a silk-curtained deep-carpeted boudoir…”(Flaubert, 46). While Chopin encapsulates Edna’s yearning in several simple and dry paragraphs, “Any one may possess the portrait of a tragedian without exciting suspicion or comment. (This was a sinister reflection which she cherished.)…When alone she sometimes picked it up and kissed the cold glass passionately” (Chopin, 23).
Their disappointments in their marriages also differ. Edna does not hate her husband as Emma does. Edna knew she did not love her husband when they married, but she manages to “grow fond of him, realizing with some unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection, thereby threatening its dissolution” (pg. 24). She married Leï¿½nce fully understanding what the decision demanded. Emma, on the other hand, enters her marriage not truly knowing what love is. Her only ideas of love are based on the false representations of romantic novels.
Essentially, Emma wants to live the life of a different person-ideally, a wealthy person that lives in Paris. Despite this, because Emma thinks and dreams in a world of romance, there is still a question of whether Emma will ever truly be satisfied with her life. Paris and wealth may appear to embrace romantic ideals on the surface, yet no matter how similar they are, reality will never be just like her novels. Edna on the contrary wants to escape her life and the rules of society. She does not want to live any particular type of life style or anybody else’s life. Edna wants freedom from everyone and wishes to live her life the way she chooses to therefore the key difference between the two is Emma is trying to escape her life to live a romantic life while Edna is trying to escape her life to live her own life.
Through the language of Flaubert, the tragic heroine Emma is portrayed as a vulnerable woman who is too young and inexperienced to be married. She is an educated and urbanized women trapped in a provincial social system. Chopin, in opposition, depicts her tragic heroine as a more powerful woman who has more control over her emotions than Emma. Edna, unlike Emma (who still likes and follows society’s conventions) is ahead of social convention, and in contrast, is hindered by its restrictions and limitations.
The striking difference between the two books becomes clear at the moments before Edna and Emma decide to commit suicide. Emma is already on a path of destruction. She has nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do. She kills herself because her relationship with her lover Leï¿½n has disintegrated, and she is left trapped, monetarily and psychologically, with no more alternatives. Her suicide therefore is out of hopelessness. Emma’s motives for death are very superficial, even up to the instant where she takes in the arsenic. She envisions her death as a beautiful, serene, eternal sleep, where death will merely take over her without any pain and without her being aware of it. However, Flaubert makes a mockery of her silly romantic ideals at her death by exposing the harsh realities of suicide through poison. On her death bed Emma “was vomiting blood. Her lips were drawn tighter. Her limbs were rigid, her body covered in brown patches, and her pulse raced away…”(Flaubert, 261).
Edna, like Emma has also run out of options when she chooses to kill herself, but in different ways. Edna has many choices besides suicide, however, all of them would force her to compromise what she believed in. At the end when she tells Robert that she loves him, he hesitates because he feels like she belongs to someone else. She wants to be with Robert at her own free will so in response, Edna states, “I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.”(Chopin,151). Unlike Emma (who has had an affair with Leï¿½n), Edna never has a real relationship with Robert because he would not let her. He is still unable to break society’s system and therefore he still cannot recognize Edna’s moral right to do as she pleases with her life. Edna realizes this and states as she swims out into the sea, “He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand.”(Chopin,162).
Even the man that loves her denies her the right to choose and thus suppresses her freedom. It is this denial of Edna’s rights that above all pushes her to commit suicide. Edna’s death comes through her revelation that she belongs to no one and when nobody accepts this, she is left alone and trapped, so she makes the one choice that will free her and that is suicide. In her death scene Edna is enfolded in the sea’s “soft, close embrace” in contrast to Emma’s vulgar and morbid death. The language that Flaubert and Chopin use in the scenes of suicide also gives insight into their beliefs. Madame Bovary is very coarsely written with little compassion towards Emma because she is a weaker character as seen through her psychological motivations in the book. Chopin writes Edna in response to this situation but portrays the female character much stronger and reveals that a woman does not have to be weak and deluded to find herself in this situation.
Although the events of the two women’s lives before their deaths are remarkably similar, through an observation of the motives behind the character’s desires to seek death, and through the death scenes themselves, the real differences are revealed between The Awakening and Madame Bovary. Edna’s death is not weak and defeated. Unlike Emma, she is not tortured with seizures and made a mockery of. Edna dies while remembering her childhood and herself. She controlled her own life, and her own end. Chopin took the situation of the main character of Madame Bovary and made a statement through the death of her character-the suppression of women.