Emma rushes over to La Huchette, and finds Rodolphe sitting by the fire. He is moderately pleased to see her, and talks to her cloyingly about his reasons for leaving, which she chooses to accept. She takes his hand and pleads with him to start their love anew. She looks beautiful, so he kisses her and declares his love. She begins to cry and asks him for money, but he explains (truthfully) that he has none. She rails at him shrilly about his expensive trifles, accusing him of selfishness and falseness. By now he has become completely cold, and she walks out.
Rodolphe always reacts to Emma as she is in that very moment. When she is beautiful and appealing, he responds lovingly; when she is graceless and mean, he responds coldly. It’s an ordinary enough behavior, but taken to an extreme. Rodolphe behaves as though there is no one solid person there, underlying the moment-to-moment. His fixation on appearance prevents him from knowing people as continuous selves.
Emma thinks wildly about her past, tottering under the strain of anxiety. She can think only about her unhappy love, the cause of her misery, and she feels “her soul slip from her.” She runs to the pharmacist’s house and begs Justin for the key to Homais’s private laboratory. He hesitates, but she finds the key herself, walks in, and eats a handful of arsenic. Justin tries to stop her, but it is too late.
Emma may be heartless, but she has a soul. Flaubert pities her, even as he reviles her. Emma has tried to construct a soul out of literary refuse, and she has tried to paste it onto the lace of her skirts, where everyone may look at it. She can finally see her actual soul in the moment of its departure. Justin, meanwhile, is another example of a youth who loves based on appearances.
When Charles had come home, devastated by news of his financial ruin, Emma had been out. He is relieved when she comes home, though she offers no explanations. She writes him a letter and asks him not to read it until the following day. Then she lies down and waits to die, thinking it will as easy as falling asleep.
Perhaps Emma is thinking of Romeo and Juliet when she eats the poison, dreaming of a simple, tragic death at the altar of love (since it is love, and not money, that is on her mind). Her last wish is for a graceful death – a death that is nice to look at.
Soon she becomes thirsty and deeply nauseous. She begins to suffer a great deal, moaning and screaming, and her face turns blue. Charles is wild with panic, and she lets him read her letter. He sends the maid to Homais, who summons two doctors. As he waits with her, he feels himself losing his mind with grief. She manages to say some kind words to him and tries to say goodbye to her daughter, who is scared by her changed appearance. One doctor comes, then the other; Emma takes an emetic and begins suffering even more.
Her death is horrible to look at, and hear and smell. Its ugliness reflects the actual terror of a human being disappearing. The tragedy of it, the pure sadness of Romeo and Juliet pink-cheeked and slumped over, is here connected to the ugliness of the body, a very true pairing, that, for once in the novel, doesn’t diminish the impact of either the vulgar or the sublime.
The priest comes to see her, and she becomes a little calmer. But in a moment she goes into her last convulsions, which are frightening and disfiguring. Suddenly, she hears the beggar with the infected eyelids singing the love song about the young girl, and laughs horribly. In a moment, she dies.
That heightened moment passes quickly. The beggar’s song exaggerates and parodies the poignant contrast between the high and the low, and voids it of meaning. On every level, Emma dies gracelessly.