Upon reading Gustave Flaubert’s renowned novel, Madame Bovary, my annoyance at Emma Bovary’s self-indulgent and ceaseless dissatisfaction with her life prevented me from appreciating the eloquence and subtle nuances of Flaubert’s writing. Flaubert depicts Emma, the titular character, as a hopeless romantic whose impossible desires cause her to resent everyone who comes into her life. She laments over the fact that her husband, while hopelessly devoted to her, is not as chic or visibly passionate as the men that she reads about in romance novels.
Emma is one of the most despicable literary characters that I have ever encountered not because she is evil, but because she has no purpose in her life. She is a damsel in distress in the very worst way possible. Emma becomes so bored with her marriage to a small-town doctor that she acquires lovers and massive debts in order to entertain herself. Never once in the course of her downward spiral does Emma tell Charles that she is unhappy or ask for him to help make any changes in their life.
What drives me craziest about Emma is that despite her complaints, Emma does not truly want to improve her life, and all of the things that she complains about are the result of her own actions.Emma’s idealistic desire to behave as she believes a romantic heroine should, leads her to despondently wallow in her misery, instead of taking action to achieve her dreams of love with Léon or anyone else. After contemplating her marital woes, Emma “[asks] herself if there might not be a way, by other combination of fate, to meet some other man” (43). Instead of expressing her unhappiness to Charles, Emma maintains a façade of complacency, while inwardly awaiting a knight in shining armor to glamorize her mundane life. By passively going through the motions of her life, Emma fails to create her own sense of satisfaction because she feels entitled to have someone else enrich her life.
In third grade my teacher gave me a piece of advice that I have lived by ever since. She told me to never ask someone to do something for me that I could do for myself. I wish that Emma Bovary could hear this advice.
If I could travel into the pages of Flaubert’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, I would beg Emma to take up a hobby that brings her happiness and a sense of satisfaction and stop reading books that evoke nothing but envy and discontentment. Instead, Emma should take up yoga to increase her appreciation of the good aspects of her life, try pottery so that she can take out her frustration on the clay instead of the people around her, start a journal to channel her emotions and release her negativity instead of keeping it all bottled up inside of her, or begin gardening so that she can become more grounded and less materialistic.
Although I cannot convince a fictional literary character to improve her outlook on life, you do have the power to increase your own happiness. Whenever you start feeling down, take a little while to vent your feelings by calling a friend, doing a little retail therapy, or digging into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s; and after that simply move on. Wallowing in despair won’t solve your problems, nor will it make you feel better, so instead return to something you can always rely on to bring you happiness, or if that fails, find something new that does make you happy.
What do you do to cheer yourself up when it seems like nothing is going your way?