Flaubert’s Use Of Irony

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Flaubert is the great master of ironic contemplation. The irony is a fundamental literary device of his novel, Madame Bovary. It uses for the intention of heightening his meaning and directing the reader’s attention to his main themes. Irony has three distinct categories including situational, dramatic and verbal irony. The first two of these ironies can be seen throughout Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

The concept of bêtise, an act of foolishness or stupidity, fascinated Flaubert. He inveighs against it in countless letters, ironising and satirising the thoughtless clichés of his contemporary bourgeois culture. Flaubert participates in the realistic representation by describing his characters’ emotions, actions, and settings clearly and without much romantic or fantastic ornamentations. He seems to be devaluing the realistic representation as his constant use of the words like “stupid, fetid, foulness” in describing the world of his novel. Thus narrator’s general inscrutability do ironies in the novel, in its satirical citation of the conventional discourse of the bourgeoisie, for instance, Homais’s pseudoscientific jargon, Bournisien’s, the priest, physiological rather than spiritual advise, Rudolph’s cynical deployment of the language of eternal love, the bombastic orations at the agricultural fair, and of course Emma and Léon’s trading of sentimental romantic banality. His use of irony contributes to the characters development in the novel, and it also adds a bitter twist to the novel’s tragic ending. The use of irony in Madame Bovary is highly dominant. The ironic narrative aimed at and achieved an extraordinary consistency of style. This medium is the distinctive nuances of irony, covering the whole spectrum from mockery to an acutely tragic sense of the discrepancy between Emma’s dreams and the real world. Irony creates a dual vision.

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The situational irony is one of the devices that can be seen in part three, chapter III, it portrays a honeymoon episode, an exquisite equivalence is maintained between the fresh instantaneity of sounds, flavours, light, shade, sensations of all kinds, and the overtone of indications that Leon and Emma augment their experience and turn it into a Romantic cliché. This “honeymoon” scene conveys for Emma a vague feeling of happiness, her awareness of the actual world ending and her reverie beginning. As similarly in the imagined experience of her honeymoon, the mood of anticipated joy is repealed by an indulgence of emptiness. All Emma’s romantic moods of illusive happiness disintegrate in retaliation of despair. The whole novel is constructed of a series of built-up moods-feelings of ‘felicity, passion, rapture’- which collapse in negative states of disillusioning reality.

As for Charles, the dull sedulous country public health officer, In his childhood was told by describing that he worked very hard for managing his academic position and won a highly commended in natural history. But his parents moved him to studying medicine instead. They thought that Charles will be successful in the medical study, in contrast, Charles failed in his examination for officer de sate. Though he is the coin of ordinary reality, one side of him is an illusion. He has marvellous intention as a master-surgeon, but, his naive dream is doomed to disappointment. Besides, he has hearthside reveries, he has romantic ideas about love. Emma that he worships, angel-like, does not occupy in his reality. He conducts himself as the her ideal husband, nevertheless, Charles never truly be Emma’s ideal-heroic husband. Charles is the last man who be able to fulfil Emma’s desire. Emma describes her feeling of disappointment towards her husband that it was ‘inconceivable that this calm life of hers could really be the happiness of which she used to dream’.

Nor is Homais, the apothecary, without illusions-namely, his faith in Progress, a faith which he shared with his time. Finally, there are the illusions of the bourgeois including the faith in religion, science, and government which are summed up for them in the speech of the councillor at the comices agricoles. Homais explains to madame Lefrancois that chemistry was connected to farming. Homais who knows nothing of the preciseness of farming is a pharmacist. His determination of trying to become intellectual is obvious in his endeavour at trying to relate chemistry and agriculture. He had already manipulated his way to be included as a member of the organising committee. His aspiration to achieve the officials who were to come to the Agricultural show is apparent. Madame Lefrancois blankly asks him whether he knew anything of farming. In answer, Homais tries in a roundabout manner to show off his bookish knowledge of botany, and hygiene. Madame Lefrancois is perplexed but that does not obstruct Homais from proclaiming that his article on Cidar; the manufacture and effects to the’ Agricultural Society of Rouen’ had earned him the honour of being received as a member of the agricultural, pomology subsection. Homaiss wanted to prove that by virtue of the selection he was at an expedient position that gave him the authority to pass judgement on the circumstance at the Agricultural Show. Homais is the focus for Flaubert’s satire on the bourgeois. He stands for that most puissant ambivalent force in provincial life. He serves to expose the ideological decay of a previous revolutionary class. In the scene of the vigil over Emma’s corpse, when Homais and the priest Bournisien associate with ferocious and farcical debate over religion, their quarrelling ends with the great ideological antagonists eating and drinking together in an impulse of simple human complicity. The final confrontation between Homais and Bournisien, as they argue through the night, in the room where Emma’s dead body is laid out, there is only a banal and farcical echo of the two negligible and witless village antagonists. The argument has been comically diminished to stigmatisation of antithetical conversations. They are in no sense a real debate. Both of them are not a scientist and the ecclesiastic in any real sense. They are merely the men who talk a great deal about spurious science and religion with naive evangelical optimism.

The situational irony in the denouement of the novel where it adds to the pathos of the narrative is presented in Emma’s suicide. Emma assorts to poison herself with Arsenic because she considers that it makes the rapid and painless death for her. In contrast, it is completely contradictory to what she believed. After consuming Arsenic, Emma lays in her bed in a state of agony. Flaubert describes with medical precision the physical symptoms, for example, excruciating pain, nausea, chills, and perspiration. Emma’s suffering makes a mockery of her romantic belief that she would die peacefully. Neither Charles nor Homais can rescue her; Canivet’s treatment is ineffectual, and even the excellent physician Larivière merely shrugs when he sees her. Just after the ecclesiastic has administered the sacrament of Extreme Unction, the blind beggar passes beneath the window, singing the vulgar songs. When she hears the song, she sits up galvanically and emits a hysterical burst of laugh, then slide back on her pillow, dead. After Emma’s funeral, Charles discovers Emma’s love letters written by Léon and Rodolphe. When Charles encounter Rodolphe, he feels his wife adulterer that he does not hold it against him. He said that it was decreed by Fate! The following day, Charles quietly dies of a broken heart, it is an ironic allusion to the archetypal romantic death. The last sentence of the novel is supremely ironic, it shows the self-satisfied and unscrupulous Homais, the epitome of bourgeois ambition who is another indirect responsibility for Emma Bovary’s unhappiness, has just been awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor. Eventually, Homais reach his supreme dream, unlike Emma and Charles.

Another irony is a dramatic irony which can be seen in Emma’s courtship with Rodolphe. Rodolphe was like the prince of Emma’s dreams because he came from the aristocratic class. He seems to be her heroic man who is stereotyped in her romance novel which she had dreamt of since her childhood days. Emma has decked herself up like a courtesan to appear more desirable for Rodolphe. Rodolphe on the other hand looked upon her only as another of his mistresses and cooperated in the game of deception that Emma was playing unknowingly with her own self and him with her. This irony evokes sympathy to the readers that acknowledge the pitiful situation of Emma.

It can be recognised that Flaubert’s use of irony enables him to restore a distinctive sense of deliberate structuring of his plot elements and also reveals his skilled use of irony. Throughout Madame Bovary, Flaubert presents the “reduplicating” of situations in order to disclose unexpected irony in characters’ beliefs and perceptions (Porter and Gray 100). The novel invites the readers to share not the mental responses of the characters but the physical surface of the real world or imagined world through which they move. It is essentially an oblique construction and provides a discreet but effective vehicle for irony and ambiguity and for the description of reveries, dreams, and hallucinatory states. Thus, irony centring the opposition between romantic aspiration, or illusion, and reality is Flaubert’s primary structural device to create the world which is seen so often as false and trivial and presents that same world as a thing of extraordinary beauty.


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