Charles falls in love with Emma, and then shows his love through kindness, care, admiration, and desire. The emotion of love is the cause, and the behaviors of love are the result. But Emma inverts the cause and the result: she simulates the appearances and behaviors of love without the impetus of actual love, and she expects the simulation to bring her happiness – her flawed approximation for the emotion of love. Her true impetus for the behaviors of love is her desire to imitate fictional heroines. But her life can never quite resemble the cartoonish novels, the desire to imitate is frustrated, and she is left mechanically performing actions even after the incentive has disintegrated.
Novels have taught Emma that love leads to permanent happiness. When she discovers that the happiness of love eventually turns to boredom, she becomes cynical: “For now she knew the pettiness of the passions that art exaggerates.” But her conclusion is false, for she has gone through the motions of love without experiencing love itself. Or, rather, she has ignored any love she did feel so thoroughly that it naturally wilted out of existence. Her pursuit of love weakens her capacity for actual love, and she experiences the consequent emotional emptiness as a terrible boredom.
Emma is surprised that her mechanical, simulated passions fail to inspire real joy. But to the end of the novel, and in every area of her life, she inverts cause and effect: she substitutes appearance for impetus. Just as she thinks love is sex, she thinks religion is prayer, and she equates motherly love to the activities of motherhood (like washing behind the ears). But praying without the inner impetus for prayer, and washing ears without actual love and care, soon seems nonsensical and exhausting, and profoundly boring. Convention and mimicry can only carry Emma so far, for they provide a very short supply of motivation.
The novels she loves have taught her, paradoxically, both to value intense emotions above all else and to act out the shells of emotions without understanding their origins. She faithfully tries to act out the shells, but the shells soon leave her cold – and being cold is intolerable to her. She is trapped in an ever-cooling cycle.
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom ThemeTracker
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Quotes in Madame Bovary
Familiar with the tranquil, she inclined, instead, toward the tumultuous. … From everything she had to extract some personal profit; and she discarded as useless anything that did not lend itself to the heart’s immediate satisfaction.
To her it seemed that certain places on earth must produce happiness.
It was Paris, rippling like the ocean, gleaming in Emma’s mind under a warm golden haze. The swarming tumultuous life of the place was divided into several parts, classified into distinct tableaux. Emma grasped only two or three of these, and they hid all the rest from her, apparently representing the whole of humanity.
With her black hair, her large eyes, her straight nose, her gliding step, always silent now, did it not seem as if she passed through life almost without touching it, bearing on her brow the pale mark of a sublime destiny? She was so sad and so calm, so gentle and yet so shy, that by her side you felt under the spell of a frosty charm, just as you shiver in church at the scent of flowers mingling with the feel of cold marble. … But she was filled with lust, with rage, with hatred.
It was that mingling of the everyday and the exotic, which the vulgar, usually, take for the symptom of an eccentric existence, of unruly feeling, of the tyranny of art, always with a certain scorn for social conventions which they find seductive or exasperating.
Emma was just like any other mistress; and the charm of novelty, falling down slowly like a dress, exposed only the eternal monotony of passion, always the same forms and the same language. He did not distinguish, this man of such great expertise, the differences of sentiment beneath the sameness of their expression.
… as though the soul’s abundance does not sometimes spill over in the most decrepit metaphors, since no one can give the exact measure of their needs, their ideas, their afflictions, and since human speech is like a cracked cauldron on which we knock out tunes for dancing bears, when we wish to conjure pity from the stars.
And yet, in the immensity of this future that she conjured for herself, nothing specific stood out: the days, each one magnificent, were as near alike as waves are.
Whenever she went to kneel at her Gothic prie-dieu, she called upon her Lord in the same sweet words she had once murmured to her lover, in the raptures of adultery. It was meant to arouse faith, but no delectation descended from on high.
But, if there were somewhere a strong and beautiful creature, a valiant nature full of passion and delicacy … What an impossibility! Nothing, anyway, was worth that great quest; it was all lies! Every smile concealed the yawn of boredom, every joy a malediction, every satisfaction brought its nausea, and even the most perfect kisses only leave upon the lips a fantastical craving for the supreme pleasure.