The Morality of Charles Bovary
Since time immemorial, both the scholarly and the laymen have sought a standard for the complex issue of morality. In this particular issue, it appears that a model for morality would be helpful. Moving on, considered one of the greatest, Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” is a novel that touches the complex topic of morality. It seems that Flaubert’s design is to set a very moral person against ethically detestable characters. Though he is not the protagonist and he has a handful of flaws, Charles Bovary is undeniable the most “moral” out of all the characters in “Madame Bovary.”
Interestingly, Flaubert had started the novel with a focus on Charles Bovary. What makes that aspect notable is that the story is not about Charles, but to his second wife, Emma Bovary. Charles is described as unimaginative at times even with some stupidity. However, there are several of his actions that he had exuded tremendous consideration of what is moral.
Charles Bovary had dreamt of having an altruistic vocation. He wanted to be a doctor, but it is explicitly hinted that he is not a talented practitioner. Due to his lack of competence as a doctor, he had to settle with being a health officer. In some sense, being a health officer could be considered more moral than being a doctor. A health officer gets more interaction with the people than doctors. Moreover, a health officer gets less pay than a doctor. Even considering the context of the narrative, it is hard to imagine that doctors get a small payment for their service. In addition to that, since there is a significance difference in the salary, a health officer is less prone to being corrupted by the concept of money. In probably one of the most significant event of Charles’ medical career, he was asked to do a complicated operation to fix a patient’s deformed foot. As expected, the operation was not a success. But even if Charles had failed as a doctor, he had shown that he is morally good. He may have performed badly in the operation, but he had good intentions of helping the patient.
If we assess the relationship of Charles and Emma, the level of Charles morality is truly remarkable. Having a relationship with a woman as morally challenged as Emma, Charles had accepted his wife, even Emma’s infidelities as portrayed by the latter’s relationship with other men. When Charles read accidentally the love letters of Rodolphe to his wife, he still forgave Emma. This particular act of forgiveness is certainly very hard to do in real life. Charles had shown martyr-like attitude with high regard to morality. When Emma was ill, Charles also tried his best to save her. Whenever Emma had failed with her lies, Charles still gave her a chance to explain herself.
If we would compare them, Charles and Emma are the exact opposites. Emma is ambitious, intelligent, and corrupt. Charles, on the other hand is simple and kind-hearted despite his stupidity. Emma is always discontent with every aspect of her life, while Charles not seeking anything beyond what he presently posses. Emma seems to cannot live a life without luxury. When Emma died, Charles had sold most of his possessions. This just shows that Charles does not harbor materialism—a generally considered immoral act.
In relation to this, Charles’ intense and pure love for Emma was also deeply challenged when Emma died. Right after Emma committed suicide by drinking arsenic, Charles became lonely and grieving. He preserved his wife’s room and regarded it as a sacred one, as if the room was a shrine. Besides showing us how Charles had loved Emma, his acts also reflects how he regards the concept of marriage. As opposed to the other characters, Charles remained loving and loyal to his wife even after her death. That is in great contrast to the other characters, especially Emma, who are already guilty of infidelity while their spouses are still alive
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Charles’ personality is that no matter people around him, particularly his wife Emma, are lacking morals, his high level of morality remains intact. As the plot develops, would realize that Charles’ being moral oftentimes sets him in a disadvantage against the other characters. Emma realizes that Charles has a very forgiving nature. Charles’ remarkable level of morality ironically becomes his negative trait. Emma just abuses that fact and uses it as an alibi to make more lies.
Flaubert had beautifully crafted the character of Charles Bovary. Charles is depicted as someone with so many negative traits like unimaginativeness and stupidity, yet he had become the most admirable character in the novel. His level of morality had never faltered a bit from the beginning to the end of the novel. However, through the character of Charles, the novel had also suggested that the moral person is set for a miserable life.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary: a novel. NY: Wordsworth Editions. 1993