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What is the Influence of Work in the Madame Bovary and A Dolls House? Essay

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‘Work is love made visible’. (Kahil Gibran). Or we work for the ones who we love. We don’t always go to work because we’re exited about it, but we all go to work to make a living for our family. The question is: how is this expressed in the drama play ‘A Doll’s House’ and the drama book ‘Madame Bovary’. There are many relevant themes that are portrayed within the books, one of which explored is in this text the influence of work on the lives of the characters and also compare it to the historical context of the late 19th century.

These themes can be directly linked to the presence of odd jobs, family-divorces, marriages and servants.

The first point of similarity in both books is that several characters have to do jobs that they would not normally do according to their position in society. In ‘A Doll’s House’ Nora does jobs, which are supposed to be done by low-class people: ‘Yes, odd jobs – sewing, crochet work, embroidery, and things like that’1.

The quote indicates us an enumeration of certain low class jobs and ‘things like that’ shows that she is above the jobs she’s listed. The end of the sentence shows that Nora doesn’t want people to know about her odd jobs because of her family’s good reputation, as her husband still has a good job. Historical context shows that a woman working while being married was against society’s expectations in that time period.

In ‘Madame Bovary’ Charles and his and Emma’s daughter, Berthe, both do low class jobs. When Charles moves to a new town, he finds it difficult to find new clients. ‘ To kill the time he turned odd-job man, even trying his hand at painting the attic with some spare paint left by the decorators’2. The use of the word ‘trying’ indicates that Charles is actually not qualified to do this job. Also ‘the spare paint left by the painters’ suggests us that the work he’s doing is actually not needed because the house was painted recently. The lack of patients and spending his time doing odd-jobs during his normal working hours might be a message that the decision to move was not good, and that it’s a message that bad things are about to happen in the future. The use of odd jobs in this part of the book might relate to what’s going to happen in the future (a flash forward) with Berth: ‘and she was sent to earn her living in a cotton mill’3. This occurs after the death of Berthe’s parents and this indicates that Berthe has to make money for her self in order to survive and this shows the hardships she has to face.

Another similarity between the books is that both of the wives attempt to leave their families due to their husbands’ jobs. In ‘A Doll’s House’ Helmer got promoted to be the new head of the bank, and as Krogstad is one of the persons going to be fired by him. This leads to the point of Krogstad abusing Nora to convince Helmer to let him keep his job, which is proved by this quote ‘ I’m going to get to the top, I tell you. I’m going back into that Bank – With a better job. Your husband is going to create a new vacancy, just for me…’4 the short sentences emphasise the simplicity of what Nora has to do. Due to the situation Helmer finds out about Nora’s debt and after a fight between them, Nora decides to leave her family. The reason why she leaves her family, is that she realizes that her complete life and marriage has been an act and that she never was treated as an equal person, but always as a Doll (refers back to ‘A Doll’s House’).

In ‘Madame Bovary’, Emma has several lovers but Rodolphe was the most serious one. She gets to know Rodolphe when they move from Tostes to Yonville-l’Abbeye. At first the relationship seems to go wrong. But when Charles attempts a clubfoot operation (which dramatically fails), Emma sees that the people in their new hometown have less respect for him, and talk about him behind is back and decides to become involved with Rodolphe. This implies that the dramatic decrease of Charles’ reputation on the work floor which again increase Emma’s reasons to become involved with Rodolphe ‘ All for what? For him! For that creature, that man without feeling or understanding who sat there in perfect placidity never would now sully her as well. She had tried to love him; had repented in tears her surrender to another man’5. The use of rhetorical questions and exclamation mark increase the feeling of disgust for Charles and the use of short sentences here shows how fed up she is with her marriage problems.

My third point is the influence of work on marriage in the books. According to me, the reason for Emma to marry Charles was the reputation that Charles had as a doctor, not as a man. Emma was misled by Charles’ occupation, an occupation he didn’t deserve to have: ‘ Charles accordingly set to work once more, and this time he studied assiduously, learning up all the questions by heart.’ 6That she was misled can also be seen when Emma notices that Charles has a lack of social skills: ‘ He thought she was happy; and she hated him for that placid immobility, that stolid serenity of his, for that very happiness which herself brought him’7.

But this can also be because ‘love blinds’. The use of short sentences in this quote increases the aggression in the tone of Emma. Later on (before the ball) Emma regrets marrying Charles: ‘Emma said over and over again: ‘ O God, O God, why did I get married?’ 8The repetition of ‘O God’ was increases the negative flow in that sentence what influences the amount of compassion that the reader feels for Emma. It also makes more clear what a big failure the marriage of Emma and Charles was.

The difference between ‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘Madame Bovary’ is that in the first book work doesn’t influence the reason to marry, which is proved by this: ‘Oh we haven’t really been in a position where I could spend a lot of money’. But it does destroy the marriage as stated earlier. Due to the IOU, Nora and Helmer are having their first serious conversation since they’ve been married and this is when Nora realizes that her relationship with Helmer isn’t what it used to be ‘ What I mean is I passed out of Daddy’s hand into yours, and I acquired the same tastes. Or I pretended to… I don’t really know…’9 The ellipsis shows how confused Nora is with the situation, but it might also show that she still doesn’t dare to really express her opinion. This emphasizes how fed up Nora actually was with being a toy, and her husbands and Krogstad’s job gave her the courage to tell him this.

Another different point between the two dramas is that in both books the people with low-class jobs, as servants are used as ‘stress relievers’ by the main characters. In ‘Madame Bovary’, Emma is frustrated by her failed marriage with Charles and uses the slightests mistakes of her maid to loose her stress. ”Leave the room!’ said Emma. ‘The impertinence! You’re dismissed!’ 10This indicates how all the anger caused by Charles is cropped inside of her, but she still won’t break the marriage rules by shouting at Charles. The exclamation mark shows us the harsh tone used by Emma when releasing her anger. Also the use of the short sentences show the simplicity used when talking to people who are in a lower position in society.

In ‘A Doll’s House’ Nora stays nice to the servants, no matter what the situation. After her conversation with Krogstad about the debt the maid interrupts her, she will try to distract the maid from what actually happened: ‘Dear old Anne Marie, you were a good mother to me when I was little’11. This highlights also Nora’s character in the book: never showing how she feels on the inside. The use of words as ‘dear’ and ‘good’ also show how she is trying to please Anne Marie so that she thinks that Nora is totally fine.

In conclusion the husband’s reputation in the workplace has a significant influence on both books, but though in ‘Madame Bovary’ the influence is bigger.

In ‘Madame Bovary’ nearly the entire plot depends on Charles’ occupation. If he would have been a farmer Emma might not have married him and as such avoided much of the suffering she would experience.

In ‘A Doll’s House’ the influence is also great, but in a different way. Helmer’s occupation makes Krogstad come to Nora and that gets her in trouble. Also in this book the plot is based on the husbands job and reputation definitely has a great influence in ‘A Doll’s House’ in that Nora doesn’t want Helmer to find out about the IOU.


Name play: A Doll’s House

Name author: Henrik Ibsen

Number of pages: 86

Date published: 1897

Name book: Madame Bovary

Name author: Gustave Flaubert

Number of pages: 374

Date published 1857

1 A Doll’s House page 9 (Nora), author: Henrik Ibsen 1897

2 Madame Bovary page 100, author: Gustave Flaubert 1857

3 Madame Bovary page 361, author: Gustave Flaubert 1857

4 A Doll’s House page 54 (Krogstad), author: Henrik Ibsen 1897

5 Madame Bovary page 197, author Gustave Flaubert 1857

6 Madame Bovary page 24, author: Gustave Flaubert 1857

7 Madame Bovary page 54, author: Gustave Flaubert 1857

8 Madame Bovary page 57, author: Gustave Flaubert 1857

9 A Doll’s House page 80, author: Henrik Ibsen 1897

10 Madame Bovary, page 68, author: Gustave Flaubert, 1857

11 A Doll’s House, page 36 (Nora), author: Henrik Ibsen, 1897

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