AuthorKnapp, Judith Poole
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractColor and light, consistent with most visual phenomena in Madame Bovary, are more than mere descriptive tools: they actually serve as vehicles for Flaubert's characteristic use of symbolism. When taken cumulatively throughout the novel, the meanings ascribed to certain color and lighting effects often symbolize specific situations or a character's psychology, while at the same time reflecting a particular point of view. This dissertation initially examines the questions of point of view, major themes and Emma's psychology. Though most of the novel is recounted by an omniscient third-person narrator, he frequently takes a back seat so that Emma's point of view, for one, becomes the dominant manner of presentation. By shifting from one point of view to another, the narrator presents us with much conflicting symbolism--are we witnessing a scene and its color and light through Emma's dreamy gaze or perhaps in a more objective light shed by the narrator? An additional source of conflict is to be found in Emma's psychology and the major themes of Madame Bovary, as they both center around the heroine's inability to distinguish dreams from reality, with reality eventually gaining the upper hand and crushing Emma's dream world. Color and light symbolism naturally mirror all of these conflicts, with positive symbols often overshadowed by negative ones. There are three basic types of illumination present in the novel--(1) dim light reflecting Emma's romantic nature; (2) harsh, revealing brightness which, in the present, sheds light on an all-too pervasive reality; and (3) a lack of illumination emphasizing Emma's depression and leading ultimately to the utter darkness of death. Seven individual colors are explored for their symbolic aspects: blue, white, yellow, black, red, pale, and green. Blue symbolizes Emma's dreams and aspirations, her desire to attain an always nebulous higher state of being, which of course she will never reach. White can at times be interpreted along classical lines as representing innocence, naivete, and potential, or conversely emptiness and ennui, as in the case of this same potential remaining unfulfilled. Yellow signifies reality which is always ready to engulf Emma and her dreams and is seen as yellowing the whiteness of her potential. Black takes on several symbolic connotations, usually dependent upon the point of view of the person lending it symbolic value. It can be seen as a reflection of the Church, of mystery, or, for Emma, of the perfect romantic hero who must dress in black. As the narrator is aware, however, and communicates to the reader, all meanings of black in the novel merely culminate in its traditional connotation, that of death, in this case, Emma's of course. Red is another shade which can be divided into positive and negative aspects, with the positive signifying sensuality, voluptuousness, and by extension a certain erotic vision of love. On the negative side, we find many characteristics of red that Emma herself would consider disagreeable: a peasant origin, outlook or attitude, and a lack of sophistication sometimes coupled with crudeness or insensitivity. One or more of three basic meanings can be ascribed to pale in any given context; it can represent a dull uninteresting existence, a romantic ideal--for Emma--, or merely a pallor caused by illness or indisposition. Green, the final hue treated, is a secondary color on the artist's palette combining the blue of dreams and the yellow of reality, thus crating a feeling of malediction for Emma and a fatal mixture, since one cannot survive in the face of the other. In the end, Emma is forced to recognize the reality which had been so clearly illuminated throughout the novel by the narrator and, unable to face the light, she ironically turns instead to the total darkness of death.
Degree ProgramGraduate College