A Simple Heart

by

Gustave Flaubert

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A Simple Heart: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Finding Loulou to be an annoyance, Madame Aubain gives him to a grateful Félicité. Visitors to the Aubain house also seem to find the parrot annoying, particularly because he won’t answer to the name “Polly” or talk when guests are listening. The local butcher’s boy, Fabu, even swats Loulou in a moment of frustration. Félicité, on the other hand, adores Loulou and treats him as if he were her own child. She also notes that Loulou seems to enjoy seeing the visitors to the house, especially Bourais, who always makes him laugh.
The fact that many bourgeois citizens of Pont-l’Eveque mistreat Loulou and maintain narrow expectations of how he should behave strikingly parallels Flaubert’s depiction of Félicité, who is also the victim of abuse and stringent societal expectations. Felicite’s love for her pet is thus reflective of her usual sense of compassion and her own embodiment of the way in which privileged members of society should treat the less fortunate.
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One day, Félicité takes Loulou outside for some fresh air and places him in the grass, only to realize later that he is gone. She spends hours running throughout town in the bitter cold in order to look for him, only to find him back in the Aubains’ garden when she sits down to tell Madame Aubain about his disappearance. The physical exertion of the day, as well as the exposure to cold, causes Félicité to develop tonsillitis. She ultimately becomes almost entirely deaf as a result of complications of the illness. She begins spending most of her time confined to the house, as she is unable to participate in conversations or receive instructions. The only noises she can hear are those Loulou makes, and the two have long conversations that make little sense but bring Félicité great joy.
Félicité’s bad luck (or perhaps, in this case, bad decision-making) strikes again when she loses Loulou outside. Her frantic search for the parrot, like her journey to say goodbye to Victor, is arduous and exhausting, indicating just how much of herself she is willing to give up for her loved ones. This time, however, her physical exertion causes her to develop conditions that render her disabled and ill for the remainder of her life. Because Loulou has developed a spiritual significance to her, it makes sense that, even after her hearing loss, his sounds are those she most fixates on and is most capable of hearing.
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Coming downstairs one morning, Félicité discovers Loulou’s dead body, and believes that Fabu—the local “butcher’s boy”—has killed him. Félicité is so distraught by Loulou’s death that Madame Aubain suggests that she get the parrot stuffed by a taxidermist.
Félicité’s decision to blame Loulou’s death on Fabu is relatively uncharacteristic of her, and appears to be the result of her deep sorrow (at the end of the novella, she apologizes to Fabu for falsely accusing him of killing the parrot).
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Félicité takes Madame Aubain’s suggestion and hires a taxidermist named Monsieur Fellacher to stuff Loulou’s body. Félicité is so concerned that the package containing Loulou will not be delivered safely to the taxidermist that she undertakes a dangerous journey at night in order to hand-deliver the package to the captain of the ship that will be transporting him. While she is walking for miles on foot in the dark, Félicité is almost struck by an approaching carriage and falls to the ground unconscious after the carriage’s driver hits her with a whip. When she gets up, her first thought is to ensure that Loulou has not been harmed by the fall. Luckily, he is still intact. When Félicité finally reaches a hill and sees the lights of Honfleur, she is struck by a wave of emotion, and feels all of the traumas, hardships, and losses of her life rushing back to her at once. After the feeling subsides, she successfully delivers the package to the captain of the mail-carrying ship.
Félicité’s journey to Honfleur is indicative of her tireless commitment to her loved ones, as well as her attempt to avoid yet another loss. Though Loulou has already died, Félicité develops a great deal of anxiety about the successful preservation of his corpse. This anxiety, coupled with a lack of sufficient regard for own well-being, explains why she responds to this near-death experience by checking on the package containing Loulou’s corpse before she recovers from the incident herself. Félicité’s emotional response to seeing the lights of Honfleur suggests that, despite her seemingly unwavering strength, she is struggling under the weight of her misfortunes—but her decision to carry on indicates that she has maintained a degree of faith in her capacity to endure them.
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After waiting anxiously for six months, convinced that her parrot has been stolen, Félicité receives the stuffed version of Loulou in the mail. She mounts the parrot on the wall alongside her other beloved possessions, which include religious items, “gifts” discarded by the Aubains, and mementos of lost loved ones like Virginie Aubain’s hat. Now so deaf that she can’t converse with anyone, Félicité lives “as if in a sleepwalker’s trance” and only becomes animated on the holiday of Corpus Christi, which she loves. Around this time, Félicité sees a painting of the Holy Spirit represented by a dove that she believes resembles Loulou. Though she tries to pray facing a print of this painting, she finds herself glancing at her parrot instead.
When Félicité mounts Loulou on the wall beside her other possessions, many of which are cast-offs which the Aubains considered valueless, she begins making the associations between her parrot and the Holy Spirit that will influence her spirituality for the rest of her life.
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Paul Aubain secures a job at the French Registry Office and marries the daughter of a colleague. The colleague promises him a promotion in the department. Meanwhile, Madame Aubain learns that her friend and manager, Monsieur Bourais, has committed suicide, and that he has been concealing acts of fraud and embezzlement, as well as an illicit affair, for several years. The distress of this news causes Madame Aubain to sink into a long depression. She ultimately succumbs to pneumonia and dies. Though Madame Aubain’s “haughtiness” and self-centered tendencies mean that she has few friends to mourn her, Félicité deeply grieves her mistress, thinking it unnatural that Madame Aubain should die before Félicité herself.
Paul Aubain’s success after his period of youthful debauchery, as well as his ability to capitalize on his business connections, is yet more evidence of the way in which his class status has saved him from many of the negative consequences of his poor decisions. Back in Pont-l’Eveque, Félicité experiences her final loss when Madame Aubain dies from a bout of pneumonia made worse by the tragedy of Monsieur Bourais death (and the shame that his immoral acts caused her). Though Madame Aubain was not a kind or warm person, the depth of Félicité’s grief indicates that she cared for her anyway, and that she grieved for her as a human being and not simply an employer.
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After Madame Aubain’s death, Paul Aubain and his new wife strip the house of its décor and furniture, upsetting Félicité greatly. Over the years, she developed an affection for many of the house’s contents, and it saddens her to see these memory-laden items removed so suddenly. She learns that the house is for sale and is especially upset at the idea of leaving her room, “the perfect place for poor Loulou.” She begins praying directly to the parrot in an “idolatrous” way, appealing to the Holy Spirit for help.
Félicité’s belief in the capacity of objects to provide comfort—particularly during the grieving process—is brought into relief when Paul and his new wife remove and sell all of the contents of the Aubain home. She is “heartbroken” by the couple’s greedy opportunism because the furniture and décor in the home are imbued with her memories of Virginie and Madame Aubain, as well as the years she spent maintaining the home as a housemaid. Like Félicité’s unusual secondhand catechism, her use of Loulou as a religious icon is highly unconventional, but her devotion to her faith—albeit through the stuffed bird—is so sincere that the novella’s conclusion suggests that the practice was not as “idolatrous” as it may have seemed. 
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When Paul and his wife leave, Félicité lives alone in the Aubain household, even as it falls into disrepair. She is afraid to ask for assistance with its upkeep because, while Madame Aubain left her a small income, she is living in the home illegally. Her only real company is a local woman named Madame Simon, who helps her with minor household chores and cares for her as her health declines. No one rents or buys the house as the years pass and Félicité grows weaker. Eventually, she learns that she has pneumonia, and because her late mistress died from the same illness, she finds the diagnosis appropriate.
The fact that Félicité is forced to live in the house even as it falls into disrepair emphasizes her lack of options as ill, impoverished woman unable to work and facing the possibility of homelessness. Because Félicité derives comfort from human connection, and particularly connection to the memory of her loved ones, she accepts the news that she will die in the same way Madame Aubain did. 
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On Corpus Christi, Félicité’s favorite day of the year, Félicité is concerned about not being able to help prepare the altars for the holiday. Before the Corpus Christi procession arrives at the Aubain house, Félicité arranges for Madame Simon to place Loulou on the altar located in the Aubains’ courtyard. Though the addition to the altar’s ornate religious objects and fresh bunches of flowers is highly unconventional, it is permitted by Monsieur le Curé, the local Catholic priest. The priest’s gesture touches Félicité’s heart so deeply that she gives Loulou to the priest in her will. As Félicité grows weaker, Madame Simon brings Loulou back to her so she can say goodbye. He has decayed somewhat and been eaten by maggots over time, but Félicité is now blind and does not notice. She kisses him goodbye before Madame Simon returns him to the altar.1111
Though Loulou’s place among the other treasures on the Corpus Christi altar is awkward and unusual, her commitment to displaying the parrot is indicative of the fact that Félicité valued intimate relationships, a commitment to others, and a sincere connection to God throughout her life more than she valued monetary wealth, empty rituals, and physical appearances. To her, the parrot is a holy object because he represents the Holy Spirit, not because he has a cultural or economic value like the fine art and jewelry that accompany him on the altar.
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