Sentimental Education

by: Gustave Flaubert

Themes

The Perceived Influence of Fate and Luck

As Frédéric actively searches for wealth and pursues Madame Arnoux, he credits fate and luck for his successes and failures, while failing to acknowledge his own active role in what happens to him. When he flips a coin to decide whether to visit Madame Arnoux, he attributes the outcome to fate rather than to simple probability. Upon facing poverty after learning that his inheritance has been stolen by Roque, he decides that luck has created an opportunity for him to work on his talents. When Senecal asks Frédéric to help him get a job with Arnoux, which Frédéric thinks will facilitate his pursuit of Madame Arnoux, Frédéric decides that fate has intervened. When his stocks make money, he again credits luck. Frédéric believes that there are very active outside forces at work in his life, and this helps him deal with failure when it does indeed occur.

When Madame Arnoux and Frédéric first spend time together, fate serves as a convenient scapegoat for Frédéric, allowing him to keep her at a distance. Although they both claim devotion to each other, they take no action to consummate their relationship and instead spend time complaining about fate. Meanwhile, it seems that everyone in their social circle is sleeping with everyone else; propriety and scandal are hardly deterrents. Something besides fate is stopping them from making their relationship fully, completely real—but it’s easier to blame the influence of fate than to take personal responsibility for decisions and actions.