Madame Bovary Theme Essays On The Scarlet

The theme of adultery has been used in a wide range of literature through the ages, and has served as a theme for some notable works such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. As a theme it brings intense emotions into the foreground, and has consequences for all concerned. It also automatically brings its own conflict, between the people concerned and between sexual desires and a sense of loyalty.

As marriage and family are often regarded as basis of society a story of adultery often shows the conflict between social pressure and individual struggle for happiness.

In the Bible, incidents of adultery are present almost from the start. The story of Abraham contains several incidents and serve as warnings or stories of sin and forgiveness. Abraham attempts to continue his blood line through his wife's maidservant, with consequences that continue through history. Jacob's family life is complicated with similar incidents.

The following works of literature have adultery and its consequences as one of their major themes. (M) and (F) stand for adulterer and adulteress respectively.


  • Edward Albee: Marriage Play (M, ?F)
  • Samuel Beckett: Play (M)
  • Alban Berg: Wozzeck (F); Lulu (F)
  • John Dryden: Marriage à la Mode'' (M, F)
  • Euripides: Hippolytus (the suspicion of F)
  • Simon Gray: Japes (F)
  • William Somerset Maugham: The Circle (F), The Constant Wife (M, F)
  • Arthur Miller: Broken Glass (F), The Crucible (M, F)
  • Peter Nichols: Passion Play (M, F)
  • Harold Pinter: The Homecoming (F)
  • Racine: Phèdre (suspicion of F)
  • William Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (no adulterers/esses, though the plot revolves around the perception of adultery); The Winter's Tale (the suspicion of adultery initiates the plot)
  • Dmitri Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (F)
  • Richard Strauss: Salome (M)
  • Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult (F); Die Walküre (M, F)
  • Hugh Whitemore: Disposing of the Body (M, F)
  • The Who: Tommy (F)
  • Tennessee Williams: Baby Doll (F)
  • William Wycherley: The Country Wife (F)


  • Leopoldo Alas: La Regenta (F)
  • Kingsley Amis: That Uncertain Feeling (M, F)
  • Machado de Assis: Dom Casmurro (F)
  • Jane Austen: Mansfield Park (F)
  • Malcolm Bradbury: The History Man (M, F)
  • John Braine: The Jealous God (M, F)
  • Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (M, F)
  • Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre (M, F)
  • Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (F)
  • James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (F)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (M, F)
  • Kate Chopin: The Awakening (F)
  • Paulo Coelho: Adultery (F)
  • Albert Cohen: Belle du Seigneur (F)
  • Ivy Compton-Burnett: A Heritage and Its History (F)
  • Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho (M, F)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (M, F); Tender Is the Night (M, F)
  • Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary (F)
  • Theodor Fontane: Effi Briest (F)
  • Ford Madox Ford: The Good Soldier (M, F), Parade's End (M, F)
  • C. S. Forester: Flying Colours, Lord Hornblower (M)
  • John Galsworthy: The Forsyte Saga (M, F)
  • Ellen Glasgow: Virginia (M)
  • Graham Greene: The End of the Affair (F); The Heart of the Matter (M)
  • Mark Haddon: A Spot of Bother (F)
  • Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Native (M, F), Jude the Obscure (M, F)
  • Josephine Hart: Damage (M)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter (F)
  • Carl Hiaasen: Skinny Dip (M)
  • Francis Iles: Malice Aforethought (M)
  • John Irving: The World According to Garp (M, F)
  • James Joyce: Ulysses (M, F)
  • Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (M)
  • Pierre Choderlos de Laclos: Les Liaisons dangereuses (F)
  • D. H. Lawrence: Lady Chatterley's Lover (F)
  • David Lodge: Thinks ... (M)
  • William Somerset Maugham: Liza of Lambeth (M), The Painted Veil (M, F), Theatre (F)
  • Nicholas Mosley: Natalie Natalia (M)
  • Iris Murdoch: A Severed Head (M, F)
  • John O'Hara: Elizabeth Appleton (F)
  • Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient (F)
  • Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago (M, F)
  • Marcel Proust: In Search of Lost Time (M)
  • Raymond Radiguet: Le Bal du Comte d'Orgel (F)
  • Marquis de Sade: Philosophy in the Bedroom (M, F)
  • Irwin Shaw: Lucy Crown (F)
  • Rabindranath Tagore: The Home and the World (F)
  • Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (M, F)
  • Anthony Trollope: Can You Forgive Her? (F), He Knew He Was Right (F)
  • Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent (M)
  • John Updike: Couples (M, F)
  • Evelyn Waugh: A Handful of Dust (F), Brideshead Revisited (M, F)
  • Fay Weldon: The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (M)
  • Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome (M), The Age of Innocence (M, F)
  • A. N. Wilson: Scandal (M, F)
  • Ellen Wood: East Lynne (F)
  • Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road (M, F)
  • Émile Zola: Thérèse Raquin (F)
  • Stefan Zweig: Confusion: The Private Papers of Privy Councillor R. Von D (M)


  • "Farewell, King John of Suburbia", New Statesman, 29 January 2009

Throughout Madame Bovary, Flaubert continually reminds the reader that women in his time tend to define themselves and be defined primarily through the men in their lives, with limited power to live independently and pursue their own interests. In some ways, the entire novel depicts the struggle to assert freedom and power, though Emma is far from worthy of emulation in her methods. Emma keeps trying to develop a more glamorous life, but feels bogged down first by her husband and then by lovers who continue to fail her. At home with Charles, Emma spends much of her time looking out the window, as though she lives her life merely as a spectator. Emma is largely at fault for the tragedy that befalls her, growing increasingly desperate in her attempts to make something more of herself.

Since childhood, Emma has dreamt of the perfect romance, the perfect love that would give her a life of ultimate happiness. Clearly, in her mind this happiness can only be reached with a man by her side. When Emma is in her most desperate state at the end of the novel, immediately before committing suicide, she again turns to men for assistance. Most often, when she appeals to men, she is denied assistance--even when attempting to prostitute herself for the funds she requires to pay her debts. Emma comes to believe that her only source of power is her sexuality, but even that cannot prevent her destruction--a boy in love with her agrees to give her access to arsenic.

Flaubert presents a tale of a middle-class bourgeois woman who is unsatisfied with her life and struggles to find something greater. Her fantastical impressions of high-class events, such as the ball she and Charles attend, are almost humorous in their unreality. At the ball, no one even notices Emma, but for months after the event, she can picture every detail of the evening.

Homais truly epitomizes Flaubert's impression of bourgeois mediocrity. Homais loves to pontificate about various subjects in which he believes himself an expert but is not. For instance, it is Homais who reads the article about clubfoot surgery and convinces Charles that together the two can perform the task. Later on, at Emma's bedside, Homais speaks to the professional doctor called in from Rouen, explaining how he attempted to examine Emma's mouth by carefully "introducing" a piece of tubing. The reader can imagine the doctor's look of disgust as he retorts that it would have been better to "introduce" his fingers to her mouth. Although he apparently despises the bourgeois class, Flaubert accepts that the bourgeois are often successful. As the novel ends, Homais is described as having been awarded the medal of the Legion of Honor.


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