Soon, Emma has the opportunity to try and change her feelings. Homais wants Yonville to become more modern in its medical practices, and he decides that Charles should implement an experimental new cure for club-foot. Emma and Homais convince Charles to operate on Hippolyte, the club-footed ostler (stableman). Charles sends away for the description of the cure and studies it carefully. Homais convinces Hippolyte to agree to the procedure by assuring him that it will nearly painless, absolutely effective, and free of charge.
Emma decides to love Charles by nudging him in the direction of a condition she considers loveable – a condition of prestige and power. These qualities are contained within her already existing framework of love, which requires a certain kind of man just as it requires a certain kind of setting. She is trying to bend reality to her abstractions, even though the abstractions are bloodless and empty, and Charles is human.
The day of the operation comes. Following the manual’s instructions, Charles cuts Hippolyte’s Achilles tendon and straps him into a special wooden box. The same day, Homais writes a grandiose article describing the operation’s certain success and praising the miracles of science. Emma, that evening, manages to feel some tenderness for her husband, now that he might become rich and famous.
Emma and Homais manipulate Charles into performing a dangerous operation – Emma with the rhetoric of love and mercy, Homais with the rhetoric of science and progress. Both use abstraction to throw a pink veil over vicious self-interest, and they do it so well that they even conceal themselves from themselves.
Five days after the operation, Hippolyte is in great pain. Underneath the wooden machine, his foot is swollen, dark, and gravely infected. Charles and Homais are alarmed by the sight, but all they can think to do is strap him back into the machine. The infection spreads higher and higher, until finally the innkeeper decides to send for Monsieur Canivet, a doctor famous in that region. The doctor is incensed by the stupid and careless operation and amputates Hippolyte’s leg the following day. Charles sits at home, ashamed and horrified, and Emma watches him with a mixture of contempt and self-pity.
The foot, hidden away inside the impressive-looking machine, is the awful proof of hypocrisy – the discrepancy between words and action, between real and feigned intent. Emma and Homais did not particularly want to cure Hippolyte – they only wanted to use him as a prop in their self-advancement (by way of Charles). Hippolyte’s suffering concerns them both only as a hitch in their plan. Charles alone experiences the suffering as a direct failure.
They listen to Hippolyte’s horrible scream, which carries all the way across town. Charles asks Emma for some comfort and affection – a kiss – and she refuses in disgust. That night, she and Rodolphe reunite.
Emma evaluates Charles exclusively by his status, his superficial place in the social world. His good intentions, his sympathy and kindness – these inner qualities are not just unimportant but invisible to her.