A Simple Heart

by

Gustave Flaubert

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Loulou the Parrot Symbol Analysis

Loulou the Parrot Symbol Icon

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

The A Simple Heart quotes below all refer to the symbol of Loulou the Parrot. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of A Simple Heart published in 2005.
Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette, Madame Aubain
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 36-37
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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Loulou the Parrot Symbol Timeline in A Simple Heart

The timeline below shows where the symbol Loulou the Parrot appears in A Simple Heart. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
...Larsonniere is promoted, and his family prepares to leave Pont-L’Eveque, his wife gives her parrot Loulou to Madame Aubain as a gift. Félicité has always been interested in the parrot, in... (full context)
Chapter 4
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Finding Loulou to be an annoyance, Madame Aubain gives him to a grateful Félicité. Visitors to the... (full context)
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
One day, Félicité takes Loulou outside for some fresh air and places him in the grass, only to realize later... (full context)
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...of bells and imagines the procession very clearly, as if she can actually see it. Loulou is buried under flowers on the altar, and Félicité keeps thinking of him as she... (full context)