One spring evening, Emma sits dreaming about her girlhood days in the convent. She walks to the church and tries to talk to the priest about her troubled state of mind, but the priest, distracted by the children running in the courtyard, does not say anything useful. Emma wants spiritual guidance, but the priest can talk of nothing but food, fire, bloated cows, and other practical matters. Emma gives up and leaves, listening to the priest try vainly to give the children their lessons.
Flaubert seems to mock Homais for his dogmatic hatred of priests, but here he himself takes an accusatory stance. The priest claims to care for the soul, but he can speak of nothing but the body; he seems only to believe in troubles of the body, not of the soul. Such a blindness in a person of his vocation is absurd and hypocritical.
When Emma comes home, Berthe tries to play with her, but Emma pushes her away so meanly that the little girl falls and badly cuts her cheek. When Charles comes home he takes care of her; Emma worries slightly, and then feels pleased at herself for worrying. Berthe lies crying quietly in her cradle, and Emma thinks her very ugly.
This sad scene leaves no room for doubt about Emma’s relationship to Berthe: she has no feelings of love, care, or responsibility toward her daughter. Emma is not monstrous – simply inexperienced at doing or feeling anything that does not benefit her directly. Motherly love is learned. It is worth noting that Emma grew up without a mother, as her mother died when she was young.
After dinner, Charles goes to the pharmacist’s house to return some bandages. Charles takes Léon aside and asks him to find out about ordering a daguerreotype – he wants to surprise Emma with a little romantic gesture. Léon, meanwhile, is growing weary of unrequited love and of his tedious daily routine, and dreams of going to Paris to finish his law degree. There, he would live like an artist and wear beautiful clothes. He takes his time making preparations, since in his heart he is unwilling to leave Emma behind. Finally he cannot postpone any longer.
Like Emma, Léon is consumed by boredom. His life is uneventful, and for the most part his emotions are idle; he can only feel so much for Emma without receiving anything in return. Léon loves Emma because it adds to the pleasure and excitement of his life, not because, say, her presence in the world seems wonderful to him. When unrequited love stops providing excitement, Léon moves on to other sources.
The day of his departure, he comes to say goodbye to Emma. They stand there, silent and flushed, full of feeling. He admires her one last time and leaves; he thinks he catches her staring at him from behind a curtain. That evening, she is forced to listen to Homais and Charles discussing Léon’s future life in Paris. Before he leaves, Homais announces that their town will soon be hosting a large agricultural show.
Léon and Emma’s sort-of-love has one interesting quality. When each one considers the love in solitude, it seems to collapse pathetically into pretty features and a shared interest in pink cliché. But when they are together, something slightly more mysterious takes place between them.