Madame Bovary By Gustave Flaubert Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 6

Summary

One evening the tolling of church bells made Emma recall her childhood and school days. She mused about the solace she had often found then through religious devotions and set out for the church, hoping that there she might resolve her present problems and gain some inner peace.

She met the curé, Abbe Bournisien, near the entrance, where he was attempting to control the mischievous children of his catechism class. Emma attempted to explain to the priest her need for spiritual help, but the priest's attention focused more on the young boys who were misbehaving. He was also more interested in telling Emma about his problems within the parish than he was in listening to her. After several attempts on Emma's part to explain her dilemma, she finally sighed in despair: "O God, O God!" The Abbe immediately thinks she has some physical ailment and advises her to go home immediately and have a cup of tea. Then "it suddenly struck him: 'there was something you were asking me. What was it, now? I can't recall.'" Emma responds that it was nothing and then leaves as the Abbe goes in to teach catechism to the group of boys.

She continued to be very jumpy and tense. That same evening, in a fit of nervous annoyance, she pushed the baby away from her. Berthe fell and cut herself. Emma screamed for help and claimed that the child had been hurt accidentally while playing. After some confused excitement, Bovary and Homais (who always appeared whenever anything of interest happened) managed to calm her and take care of Berthe.

Leon found that his position in Yonville remained perplexing and intolerable. He adored Emma, but saw no future in his love for a married woman. He decided to go to Paris to study law, something he had long spoken of doing. The idea of being alone in the capital frightened him, but he saw no other alternative. After a while, though, he began to imagine with great joy the Bohemian adventures he would have there.

Leon made his arrangements and the day finally came for his departure. When he bid farewell to Emma, they were both restrained and shy, although their eyes and gestures communicated a wealth of emotional meanings. After he had gone, Homais and Bovary discussed the dangers and temptations of life in the city. Emma listened silently.

Analysis

When Emma thinks of the consolation she had at the convent, she fails to remember that she was also terribly dissatisfied there. Emma is actually looking for some experience that will fill her void and occupy her so that she will not think about her misery. In other words, she is using religion as a substitute for real experiences and as a way of forgetting her present misery.

In this brief scene between Emma and the priest, Flaubert offers a masterful condemnation of the church in a very subtle way. The priest is so occupied with his own insignificant occupation that he does not have time to perceive Emma's distress. In fact, he thinks that she needs a cup of tea rather than spiritual guidance. His devout devotion to details renders him incapable of recognizing Emma's spiritual need and thus he fails in his greater mission as a priest.

This chapter presents the departure of Leon without a physical consummation of their love. But the length of this mutual attraction and Emma's many reflections about it make her more receptive for her next encounter. In other words, she regrets her timidity in not letting Leon know of her love so that now she is emotionally prepared to respond more openly to the advances of Rodolphe. It can also be said that both Emma and Leon have progressed in their education so that when they next meet, they will not be so bashful and timid.

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