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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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Madame Bovary!