Search Menu

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert


Charles Bovary

Charles represents both the society and the personal characteristics that Emma detests. He is incompetent, stupid, and unimaginative. In one of the novel’s most revelatory moments, Charles looks into Emma’s eyes and sees not her soul but rather his own image, reflected in miniature. Charles’s perception of his own reflection is not narcissistic but merely a simple, direct sensation, unmediated by romantic notions. The moment demonstrates his inability to imagine an idealized version of the world or find mystic qualities in the world’s physical aspects. Instead, he views life literally and never imbues what he sees with romantic import. Thus it is the physical aspects of Emma that delight Charles. When the narrative focuses on his point of view, we see every detail of her dress, her skin, and her hair. When it comes to her aspirations and depressions, however, Charles is at a loss. He nods and smiles dumbly as Emma conducts the same sorts of conversations with him that she does with her dog. Charles is too stupid to manage his money well or to see through Emma’s obvious lies, and he is a frighteningly incompetent doctor. In one scene, as he goes to repair Rouault’s leg, we learn that he is trying desperately to “call to mind all the fractures he [knows].” His operation on Hippolyte’s clubfoot, while it is not his idea, is a complete failure. Charles is more than merely incompetent, however. He is physically repulsive, though it’s hard to tell from Flaubert’s descriptions whether he is actually an ugly man or whether he appears disgusting only through Emma’s eyes.

Despite his unimaginative nature, Charles is one of the novel’s most moral and sincere characters. He truly loves Emma, forgiving her even when he finally recognizes her infidelities. He does everything he can to save her when she is ill, and he gives her the benefit of the doubt whenever her lies seem to fail her. Literal-minded, humble, free of temptations, and without aspirations, Charles is Emma’s opposite. While she possesses some beauty, sensitivity, and intelligence despite her moral corruption, Charles remains good-hearted despite his boorishness and stupidity.

More Help

Previous Next
Essay- Evolutionary Perspective

by Celestial-moon-fire, March 20, 2013

Emma's behaviour could be explored as an effect of sexual selection, which is a form of selection that drives Evolution. Similar to Peacocks, where teh females choose the most attractive mate for reproduction, Emma wants a more attractive and intresting man to pass on her genetic inheritance.


4 out of 24 people found this helpful

Discuss the themes of the novel Madame Bovary.

by touhidsm, May 06, 2014

Read the full answer at >>>


Theme is one of the most important issues in a literary composition that conveys some universal ideas and truth. Here in the novel titled “Madame Bovary”, written by a French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, there are several dominating themes. The themes, the inadequacy of expression, the powerles... Read more


15 out of 17 people found this helpful

Character of Emma Bovary:

by touhidsm, May 06, 2014

Read the full answer at

Madame Bovary is a French novel in English written by Gustave Flaubert. In this novel, Emma Bovary is the protagonist whose tragic downfall is caused by the romantic sentimentalism in her life. The sentimentalism is so powerful that she cannot come out of it. Her character is being nicely described below.

Emma's early life influenced her entire approach to life. She was born with a natural tendency t... Read more


21 out of 22 people found this helpful

See all 5 readers' notes   →

Marketing Management / Edition 15

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®) / Edition 5

Got it?
Take a quiz on All Major Characters →