Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapter 8



Rodolphe was surprised to see Emma. They talked about the past for a while, and she was able, as planned, to arouse his old interest in her. She told him about her debts and asked him to lend her several thousand francs. Rodolphe began to understand the reason for her strange visit and calmly told her that he had no money available. Emma knew he was lying. She lost her temper and left.

Now Emma realized that the situation was hopeless. She walked through the fields without seeing and had dazed memories of incidents in her life. Then she became lucid again and decided what she had to do. She ran to Homais' shop and induced the servant, Justin, to let her into the attic. There she opened a jar of arsenic and ate a large quantity of it, while the frightened boy watched. She went home again, for the first time in a long while feeling at peace.

Meanwhile, Bovary had learned about the sheriff's confiscation. He searched frantically for Emma, but no one knew her whereabouts. When he returned home, he found her resting in bed. She gave him a letter which he was not to read until the next day.

In a short time Emma was torn by spasms of nausea and became violently ill. Despite his concern, she would tell Bovary nothing, so he opened her letter and discovered to his horror that she had poisoned herself. He called for help and soon the news spread through the town.

Homais came to his assistance, and they sent for doctors from Rouen and a neighboring town. Bovary was too upset to do anything and sat at Emma's bedside crying. She wept also and for once was tender to him. The other doctors and the priest arrived, but nothing could be done. After a few more hours, Emma died in great pain.


When Emma arrives at Rodolphe's house to ask for money, the reader should remember that they haven't seen each other for over three years. Thus when he first sees Emma, all of his old desires for her are reawakened and Emma is aware that she has some effect on him. Thus in his refusal to give her money, Emma feels that this is again a betrayal of her love. Flaubert intimates that Emma's desire to kill herself comes not from her desperate financial condition and not from the weak Leon's refusal, but from a larger sense of betrayal by Rodolphe. To Emma, who has devoted her life to a search for perfect love, this second betrayal by Rodolphe makes life not worth living. Her reactions and her state of mind immediately after leaving Rodolphe are practically the same as when he first betrayed her. And as she was sick for forty-three days the first time, she decides now to take her life. Thus Emma's suicide is motivated by her sense of betrayal by the one man whom she might have loved. Flaubert perhaps is suggesting that Emma was capable of a profound love. If she was not, then at least, she possessed a dream of love which was worth living for and when this dream was betrayed, there was nothing left but suicide.

It is a bit of Flaubert's irony that Justin is directly responsible for Emma's death. This is ironic because he is the one character in the book who has demonstrated a constant, undeviating love for Emma. His love for Emma exists on a plane which Emma herself never felt and never achieved; thus it is ironic that the person who most loved and adored her was also the one responsible for her death. That is, had he not loved her so much, he would never have been intimidated enough so as to give her the keys to the secret room where the arsenic was kept.

Emma's death reflects the pathetic misuse of her life. As she has spent her life longing for the unattainable and had failed miserably, so in death she longed for a simple but beautiful death. But instead, her death is one of horrible suffering and ugliness, and the ugliness of her death is emphasized by the appearance of the blind man, the symbol of her degradation in life.

Emma's last act is that of taking extreme unction, and this act captures the essence of the novel. Here she returns to the religious fold, but her return is in terms of sensuousness. The kiss that she gives to the crucifix is not one given to God but it is more of an erotic, sensual kiss. And when the priest anoints her, Flaubert subtly reminds the reader that this woman is a sensualist: the priest anoints the eyes "that had coveted all worldly pomp" then the nostrils and mouth "that had uttered lies, that had curled with pride and cried out in lewdness"; then the hands that "had delighted in sensual touches," and finally the feet which were "so swift . . . when she was running to satisfy her desires, and that would now walk no more." Thus the final picture of Emma is that of the sensualist looking in death for the supreme sensual desire.

Many critics have suggested that with the appearance of Dr. Lariviere we have our only admirable character in the novel. Perhaps this characterization is influenced by Flaubert's own father. He does contrast to the other characters, in view of the fact that he is coldly analytical, but yet his presence indicates that he cares for humanity. He does express real sympathy for his patients; and his sense of intelligence, his professional dignity, and his integrity set off all the other characters as being petty and stupid.