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An Analysis Of Homais As An Instrument Of Satire In Flaubert's, Madame Bovary

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An analysis of Homais as an instrument of satire

In Flaubert's satiric novel, the story's apothecary is used to convey Flaubert's views of the bourgeois. As a vehicle for Flaubert's satire, Homais is portrayed as opportunistic and self-serving, attributes that Flaubert associated with the middle class. Homais' obsession with social mobility leads him to commit despicable acts. His character and values are also detestable. He is self-serving, hypocritical, opportunistic, egotistical, and crooked. All these negative characteristics are used by Flaubert to represent and satirize specific aspects of middle class society. More specific issues that are addressed include Homais' superficial knowledge, religious hypocrisy, and pretentiousness. Furthermore, his status as a secondary character suggests his significance to the satire. If Emma is meant to portray the feminine aspect of the bourgeois then Homais is undoubtedly meant to represent the masculine aspect. Flaubert wanted to ridicule and criticize the bourgeois class. By including Homais, Flaubert is able to satirize all the negative aspects of middle class society within a single novel.

In adolescence and throughout much of his life, Gustave Flaubert regarded the bourgeois existence as an "immense, indistinct, unmitigated state of mindlessness" (Wall 29-31). He vented his contempt for the bourgeois in many of his works. In his Dictionary of Received Ideas he proclaims:

"Each bourgeois phrase, each bourgeois feeling, each bourgeois opinion is touched by the hilarious dismaying suspicion of fakery. Solemnly and energetically proclaiming their clichйs to each other, perhaps the bourgeois are indeed simply machines. They are stuck, like busy automata, in their perpetual false consciousness" (Wall 29-31).

In Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert uses Homais as one of the central figures of his satire. Homais, Yonville's apothecary and the Bovarys' neighbor, is used as a vehicle to ridicule the values and principles of the French middle class. True to this, Homais is depicted as an overly ambitious, self-important fool. For example, Flaubert creatively stages arguments between Homais and the village priest in order to mock the bourgeois's lack of spirituality. One encounter of note occurs on Emma's deathbed soon after she has passed away. The Priest declares that there is nothing left but to pray for Emma. In response, Homais, an avowed agnostic, blasphemously objects, "since God knows our needs, what can be the use of prayer?" This in turn, starts a heated and farcical debate over religion, which culminates when Homais accuses the Jesuits of fabricating history. The heated discussion briefly ceases when Charles enters the room, and then resumes once he has left. Homais' dispute over the use of prayer not only reaffirms his agnostic beliefs but also reflects his open contempt for the church and its institutions. Furthermore, his apparent eagerness to win the debate overrides his respect for the deceased, and further underscores his selfish and indifferent values. As a representative of the bourgeois, Homais is depicted as morally offensive and shallow. In fact, the very image of him arguing ideologies over the deceased body of Emma is offensive in itself. "Flaubert creatively uses this incident to highlight the ideological and religious decay of French middle class society and also to ridicule the optimism and enthusiasm for scientific progress and enlightenment which were so marked a feature of mid-19th century France" (Thody 576).

Homais' indifference and superficial knowledge are cleverly highlighted in the incident with Hippolyte. In the novel, he is constantly rambling on about revolutionary medical procedures he knows nothing about. This more often then not leads him into trouble. For example, in his aspirations for fame and prestige Homais manipulatively convinces Hippolyte to have a surgery he doesn't need in an attempt to fix his clubfoot. He arranges for Charles to carry out the surgery, however, the surgery becomes botched after Hippolyte's leg becomes gangrenous. Charles is forced to summon a doctor to amputate Hippolyte's leg. Afterwards, Homais is forced to listen to the reproaches of the doctor for devising the operation. "Homais was suffering as he listened to this sermon, and he hid his discomfort behind a courtier's smile, needing to appease Monsieur Carnivet, whose prescriptions sometimes came as far as Yonville" (Bovary 169). The doctor reprimands Homais for attempting to fix a situation that was perfectly well. Hippolyte was obviously better off before the surgery. In this incident, Homais selfishly sacrifices his dignity in order to protect the more serious interests of his business. He abides the insults and swallows his pride in order to appease the doctor. Afterwards, to comfort his conscience, he relishes all blame and displaces the fault on Charles' inadequacy as a doctor. Clearly, Homais' interests lies with protecting himself and not the well being of Hippolyte, whom he has ruined.

In a similar incident, Homais attempts to cure the sight of a blind beggar. In an act of blind confidence and pretentiousness he assures the blind beggar that he can restore his sight, "the apothecary guaranteed that he would cure the man himself, with an antiphlogiston ointment of his own creation, and he gave his address" (Bovary 280). However, like the incident with Hippolyte, Homais utterly fails and only succeeds in aggravating the beggar's condition. To hide his failure this time, Homais embarks on a campaign to rid Yonville of the blind beggar, who to the ire of Homais, had resorted to telling travelers of the apothecary's fruitless efforts. Homais does succeed, however, in silencing the beggar. Through his efforts, the beggar is condemned to an asylum. "The success emboldened him" (Bovary 322). Through this incident, Flaubert ridicules the bourgeois' blind confidence in pseudo-intellectual science and progress. Furthermore, the incident provides another example of Homais' crafty and conniving character. Once again, we see that Homais' interests lies with protecting himself and not his patients.

Flaubert also uses Homais to criticize the superficiality and pride of the bourgeois class. In a testament to his anti-clericalism and vanity, Homais engages in another argument with the priest over the morality of going to the theatre and reading literature such as Voltaire. The priest

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