After inheriting Loulou from a friend, Madame Aubain finds the parrot a nuisance and gives him to Félicité to care for. Félicité’s devotion to the parrot, both during and after his life, makes him a symbolic embodiment of her religious devotion, as her relationship to Loulou parallels her relationship to God. Even before Félicité knew to articulate her Catholic faith, she embodied the spirit of Christ by being selfless, generous, kind, and humble. Her fastidious care for the parrot echoes her natural Christian personality and her tendency to treat others as Christ would treat them. Furthermore, when Félicité comes across two works of religious art featuring the Holy Spirit represented by a dove, she believes that the dove looks exactly like Loulou, which further cements Loulou’s parallel to Christ. Then, when Loulou dies, Félicité has the bird stuffed and she mounts it on the wall of her bedroom, ultimately getting into the habit of praying directly to Loulou’s body as one might pray over a representation of Christ on the cross. Flaubert writes that, in Félicité’s estimation, “the parrot [became] sanctified by connection with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit in turn acquiring added life and meaning.” However, this claim is complicated by the fact that, at the time of her death, she appears to see the parrot as more than simply “connected” with the Holy Spirit, but indeed its actual embodiment. As she passes away, she imagines a large version of the parrot opening the gates of heaven for her. This unusual and striking image makes it clear that Félicité’s version of religious worship is a highly personal and intimate one that ultimately results in her eternal salvation.
Loulou’s status as a religious relic also calls attention to the way in which Félicité maintains a relationship to her Christian faith in ways considered unsophisticated by the French bourgeoisie. Though “of scripture she understood not a word,” and her neighbors find her attachment to the parrot odd, Félicité thinks about and looks at Loulou in order to access a strong sense of spirituality. Because Flaubert combines descriptions of this unconventional religious habit with Félicité’s lifetime of selfless and virtuous acts, it seems that he is perhaps using Loulou to poke fun at the empty formality of certain Catholic traditions, particularly when these traditions are practiced by members of the French bourgeoisie who otherwise live immoral lives. In other words, Félicité’s method of religious worship may seem odd, but because it is sincere and connected to true morality, it is ultimately more meaningful than more conventional choices that may be less deeply felt.
Loulou the Parrot Quotes in A Simple Heart
He thoroughly irritated Madame Aubain and so she gave him to Félicité to look after. She decided she would teach him to speak and he was very soon able to say, ‘Pretty boy!’, ‘Your servant, sir!’ and ‘Hail Mary!’ She put him near the front door and a number of visitors were surprised that he would not answer to the name ‘Polly’ […] Some people said he looked more like a turkey or called him a blockhead. Félicité found their jibes very hurtful. There was a curious stubborn streak in Loulou which never ceased to amaze Félicité; he would refuse to talk the minute anyone looked at him! Even so, there was no doubt that he appreciated company.
In her anguish she would gaze at him and beg the Holy Spirit to come to her aid. She developed the idolatrous habit of kneeling in front of the parrot to say her prayers. Sometimes the sun would catch the parrot’s glass eye as it came through the little window, causing an emanation of radiant light that sent her into ecstasies.
A cascade of bright colours fell from the top of the altar down to the carpet spread out on the cobblestones beneath it. In amongst the flowers could be seen a number of other treasured ornaments: a silver-gilt sugar-bowl decorated with a ring of violets, a set of pendants cut from Alençon gemstones glittering on a little carpet of moss, two Chinese screens with painted landscapes. Loulou lay hidden beneath some roses and all that could be seen of him was the spot of blue on the top of his head, like a disc of lapis lazuli.
Her eyes closed and a smile played on her lips. One by one her heartbeats became slower, growing successively weaker and fainter like a fountain running dry, an echo fading away. With her dying breath she imagined she saw a huge parrot hovering above her head as the heavens parted to receive her.