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Color Symbolism in Madame Bovary
In his novel Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert uses explicit use of detail and imagery to unfold the story of a 19th century middle-class woman, Emma Bovary. As the novel progresses, Emma becomes the wife of the doctor Charles Bovary and begins become less satisfied with her empty provincial reality. The growing desire of a fairytale-like life sequentially is what leads her to acquire great debts, adulterous affairs and eventually causes her greatest downfall; suicide. Flaubert’s novel is widely considered a masterpiece largely because of his use of narrative description. One of the many techniques Flaubert uses is color symbolism, which he uses colors to make crucial connections between characters in order to juxtapose them and emphasize certain attributes that take part in Emma’s life as well as a framework when setting up the mood and tone throughout the novel.
Two of the most recurring colors in the novel are red and green. These colors are opposite in the color spectrum and consequently represent opposing ideas. When red objects appear in the book, they signal danger or the unappealing, while the green objects indicate the attractive or amiable in Emma’s point of view. In the rare instances in which these two colors appear together, they tend to signify moments of tension, confusion or prominent turning-points.
Early in the novel, Flaubert cleverly utilizes red, green, blue, black, and yellow to describe Charles Bovary’s first appearance, which is one of confusion and discomfort. In doing so, he introduces the colors that he will echo throughout the story along with their respective representations. Red and blue are placed alongside each other when they appear in his dress attire, “...his short green jacket with the black buttons must have been tight under the arms and revealed, at the cuffs, two red wrists more used to being bare. His legs, in their blue stockings, emerged from yellow-coloured trousers…”...