Madame Bovary

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Madame Bovary Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Léon spends the following day waiting expectantly for dinner. He is thrilled by his conversation with Emma – his first long conversation with a lady. He is well-educated but shy, and he feels that the conversation brought out all his best thoughts and most refined instincts. Homais, on his end, is as helpful and friendly to the Bovarys as he can be. He has gotten in trouble in the past for practicing medicine without a license, and he wants to befriend the new doctor so that he might keep quiet about the pharmacist’s infringements, if need be.
Like Emma, Léon experiences the world primarily as a set of vague abstractions. Emma is not Emma, but a “lady”; she is meaningful to him for her abstract contribution to his self-image, not for her particular qualities. Similarly, their conversation is not valuable to him for any insight or pleasure. It is valuable because it fits into the abstract category of a “refined” conversation.
Themes
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Charles is anxious that he has no patients as yet, and he is worried about the family’s growing expenses. Emma’s many extravagant purchases, and now this difficult move, have finished off her entire dowry. But he is overjoyed about their unborn child. Emma, on the other hand, cannot quite look forward to the child’s birth because she cannot spend as much as she would like on its clothes and bedding. She is hoping for a son, so that he might be strong and free to do anything he likes. He would do all the wonderful things that Emma cannot.
Here, and elsewhere, Emma resembles Charles’ father. Emma squanders her dowry on extravagances, just as the elder Monsieur Bovary squandered his wife’s dowry. He is adventurous, ill-mannered, selfish, and charming, just as Emma would wish to be, if she were a man. Emma wants a son that might fulfill this dream for her. She is only capable of valuing the child on this very specific condition.
Themes
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
However, Emma gives birth to a girl. After long deliberation she names her Berthe, after some aristocratic young woman at the Vaubyessard ball. After a rowdy christening party, she gives the child to a wet nurse named Mère Rolet.
Since the child is a girl, and the condition cannot be fulfilled, Emma creates another, equally narrow one: the girl must abstractly represent beauty and aristocracy.
Themes
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Some time after the birth, Emma goes out to the nurse’s house to visit the child. She runs into Léon on the street, and he shyly offers his company. The nurse’s house is small and rather squalid, and the nurse appears with a very sickly child at her side. Emma picks up Berthe from a cradle on the floor, and just as Léon is admiring her incongruous delicate beauty, the child vomits on the shoulder of her dress. The nurse takes the opportunity to ask Emma for some soap, then some coffee to keep her awake, then some brandy. Emma agrees with some irritation.
Emma seems not to notice the dirt, sickness, and sadness of the nurse’s house. She does not care that her child is living in very bad conditions. She is concerned only that she might appear lovely to Léon. Even when she picks up the child, the text implies, subtly, that she does it for his benefit, and, therefore, for the sake of her self-image. She is willfully blind to this uglier part of life, which she has fantasized into nonexistence.
Themes
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
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On their way home, Emma notices Léon’s fine hair and fingernails, which he cares for very conscientiously – it is “one of the clerk’s main occupations.” They walk home slowly, admiring the scenery and discussing a dancing-troupe. They are struck by an intense mutual sympathy, very much like love or lust. By evening the entire town has heard of their promenade, and public opinion condemns it as very improper. Léon walks Emma to her door, returns to his office, and thinks despairingly of his deep boredom with country life. He has had no one interesting to talk to – until now.
Léon is similarly obsessed with appearances. She notices his pampered fingernails, just as Charles once noticed hers. Like Emma, Léon strives for some vague, ideal life, but he can only identify it by its external markers. He thinks that clean fingernails are somehow equivalent to something like emotional delicacy; but he can’t manage to be interested in the delicacy itself, just as Emma can’t manage to be interested in music itself.
Themes
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon