In several asides, Flaubert insists that human speech does not often convey anything true about the speaker or the subject matter: it either surpasses its subject, or fails to reach it. Language is full of cliché and abstraction, rhetorical tools that allow the speaker to convince the listener of something quite other than the truth, and therefore it is often a conduit for conscious or unconscious hypocrisy: “Language is indeed a machine that continually amplifies the emotions.”
Skilled speakers and writers – rhetoricians – easily manipulate language to their own ends. Homais’s linguistic facility allows him to disguise or distort the truth: he vastly exaggerates his emotions and achievements, and his article about Charles’s irresponsible operation makes Charles seem like a hero. Rodolphe employs the rhetoric of romantic love, which disguises his actual cynicism, in order to manipulate Emma and seduce her. On the other hand, kind but tongue-tied people like Charles and Catherine Leroux often fail to convey the depth and delicacy of their emotions. For them, language does not quite rise up to the truth. People incorrectly assume that their simple, stunted ways of speaking indicate stupidity: “… 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.” We are urged to remember that language is an imperfect reflection of the speaker’s opinions and emotions.
If an author’s goal is manipulation or personal gain, language is a well of fluidity and floweriness one can plumb indefinitely; but if an author is concerned with truth, language is a precision game she is bound to lose. Flaubert lived this belief through his meticulous, searching prose and his disdain of linguistic ornament and cliché.
Truth, Rhetoric, and Hypocrisy ThemeTracker
Truth, Rhetoric, and Hypocrisy Quotes in Madame Bovary
Charles’s conversation was as flat as any pavement, everyone’s ideas trudging along it in their weekday clothes, rousing no emotion, no laughter, no reverie.
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.
At last, she was to know the pleasures of love, that fever of happiness which she had despaired of. She was entering something marvellous where everything would be passion, ecstasy, delirium; blue immensity was all about her; the great summits of sentiment glittered in her mind’s eye, ordinary experience appeared far below in the distance, in shadow, in the gaps between these peaks.
… 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.
…for that was how they wanted it to have been, each of them now devising for the other an ideal rearrangement of their past. Language is indeed a machine that continually amplifies the emotions.
The pharmacist had meditated every phrase, he had smoothed and polished it and made it flow; it was a masterpiece of deliberation and progression, of elegant style and tactfulness; but anger had obliterated rhetoric.
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.