Although Homais is not central to the plot of Madame Bovary, he is an absolutely essential part of its atmosphere. He is a pompous speechmaker, endlessly rattling on about medical techniques and theories that he really knows nothing about. His presence serves, in part, to heighten our sense of Emma’s frustration with her life. Flaubert relates Homais’s speeches in full, forcing us to read them just as Emma is forced to listen to them. Homais is also an extremely selfish man. When the Bovarys first arrive in Yonville, we learn that he is only befriending Charles because he wants Charles to turn a blind eye to his disreputable medical practices.

In the last sentence of the book, Homais receives the Legion of Honor, a medal he has always dreamed of attaining, after Emma and Charles are both dead. Meanwhile, Charles—who loved his wife as deeply as he was capable—and Emma—who yearned to live an exceptional life—are both punished. By rewarding Homais, Flaubert does not advocate his kind of life. Instead, he shows us a realistic portrayal of one of the most disappointing aspects of the world—that the mediocre and the selfish often fare better than either those who live passionately and try to be exceptional or those who live humbly and treat others with kind generosity.