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Frédéric, the protagonist of Sentimental Education,
lives his life according to a particular pattern: he desires many
things and many people but loses interest as soon as he wins them.
He pursues various ambitions, both artistic and political, only
to drop them as soon as he runs into trouble or his attention fixes
elsewhere. He often yearns for Deslauriers as a friend, only to
dismiss him without a second thought. He relentlessly pursues Rosanette
and Madame Dambreuse, then falls out of love or lust as soon as
the women become reliable fixtures in his life. This pattern explains
why he can sustain his ardor for Madame Arnoux for such an extended
period of time. Although there are moments when he does come close
to winning her, he never fully succeeds, and the chase therefore
is never over. Only when she finally becomes available as his lover
does his interest wane. Frédéric’s frustrating pattern and lack
of self-reflection make him a maddening antihero, and his indecision,
passivity, dishonesty, and blind desire to be considered part of
high society make him rather unsympathetic as a protagonist.
Although the title of the novel suggests that the book
will describe a young man’s education in the world, Frédéric proves unwilling
to learn from his bad judgments and mistakes. Again and again, he
falls into the same traps: giving money to the wrong people, trusting
the wrong women, erroneously believing he can get away with whatever
indiscretion he chooses and escape the consequences. He pursues
women for the wrong reasons and never understands why he can’t find
happiness. He persists in believing that Madame Arnoux is the only
thing that can make him happy. Frédéric has his chance to truly
achieve an education: when he loses interest in Madame Arnoux at
the end of the novel, he has the opportunity to review his choices
and make changes in his life. However, he and Deslauriers simply
chalk their failures up to fate and chance. Frédéric never considers
the possibility that his misplaced passion for Madame Arnoux is
responsible for his ultimate lack of fulfillment. Frédéric never
gains the ability to engage in honest self-reflection, which is
a benchmark of true maturity and a key to achieving happiness.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Sentimental Education!