Summary and Analysis
It took Charles a long time to recover from the initial shock of Emma's death. His mother arrived and helped to put affairs in order and thought that now Emma was gone she would be reinstated in Charles' affection. Emma's father also showed up for the funeral, but was too emotional to be of help. The priest and Homais sat up all night with the body and performed certain rites which they thought appropriate. The priest had a difficult time convincing Charles that the burial should take place soon. Charles gave directions for Emma to be buried in her wedding dress and quarreled with his mother about the expense of some parts of the funeral.
As soon as the funeral is over, old Roualt goes home without even seeing little Berthe. Later that night the sexton sees Justin by Emma's grave and thinks that he now knows who has been stealing his potatoes.
In the days which followed, Bovary was contacted by all Emma's creditors. Her debts included not merely those of Lheureux, but many bills to business concerns, tradesmen, and other people. Their total constituted a vast amount. Bovary tried to collect the fees due him in an effort to pay but learned that Emma had already done so.
In the meantime, Leon became engaged to a young woman of good family. Bovary sent a letter of congratulations to Leon's mother, in which he remarked, innocently, that the news would have pleased his late wife.
One night Bovary came across the letter from Rodolphe that Emma had lost in the attic a long time before. He read it, but assumed that there had been a platonic affection between them and was not concerned. He idealized Emma's memory and was pleased to learn that another had also admired her.
In an attempt to pay his debts, Bovary had to sell nearly all the furniture, but even this amount was not sufficient. For sentimental reasons, though, he refrained from taking anything from her bedroom and kept it just the way it was before her death. Mrs. Bovary had come to live with him, but they had a quarrel over the possession of one of Emma's shawls and she left his house. The servant left also, taking most of Emma's wardrobe with her.
Bovary began to live in seclusion. He avoided his old friends and neglected his practice. Homais, who had once been so close, and who was now a power in the community, shunned him, claiming that there was too big a gap in their social positions.
Bovary often sat in Emma's room, examining her possessions and recalling their life together. One day he opened her desk and discovered the letters from Rodolphe and Leon. He read them with an air of disbelief and was very distressed when he realized their meaning and was forced to acknowledge that Emma had been unfaithful. After this he was always gloomy and seemed a broken man. He rarely left his house and kept away from people.
Once he had to go to Rouen to sell his horse in order to raise more money. He met Rodolphe there and the two men had a drink together in a cafe. Rodolphe felt guilty and tried to make small talk. Finally Bovary told him that he knew the truth, but that he no longer held any grudge against him. The fault, Bovary said, was with Destiny.
The next day Bovary died quietly while sitting in his garden. His house and remaining property were sold on behalf of his creditors, and there was just enough left over to send Berthe to stay with her grandmother. Mrs. Bovary died later that year and Roualt was seriously ill; Berthe was then sent to an aunt's house. This woman was very poor, and the little girl ended up working in a cotton mill.
The final chapters are concerned with showing the effect of Emma's death on various people. The greatest effect is on Charles, who mourns her death for a long time before he discovers the letters from Rodolphe and Leon. Then he slowly deteriorates in despair and poverty and inertia. Obliquely, Emma's death probably has the greatest effect on little Berthe, since at the age of seven she is sent into the cotton mill to earn her own living. In contrast, the people whom Emma most loved, Rodolphe and Leon, are not at all affected by her death. Justine who loved her with the purest love, is accused of stealing potatoes because he returned to cry at her grave.
The last chapter is filled with many ironies. That Charles would want to bury Emma in her wedding dress (a symbol of purity) is ironic in view of Emma's infidelities. The actions of the chemist and the priest are developed to show how their every act is not for someone else's benefit but for their own advancement. Homais' receipt of the cross of the Legion of Honor suggests the pettiness of the society against which Emma revolted.
In the final analysis, as seen against the society in which Emma lived, Emma becomes a rather sympathetic character. She was a woman who had a full conviction of her dreams and was willing to risk everything for them. She had a glimpse of a life and of emotions that exist outside this narrow provincial world, but her tragedy lies finally in the fact that she could find no object in this world worthy of her dreams.