In comparing the two novels Madame Bovary and The Doctor’s wife, there is a common recurring theme of illusion, which plays a crucial role in the impending conflict that occurs later and consequently leads to the tragic events.
Illusion in both the cases seems to be the perfect way to escape and to ignore the pain of reality. Emma is self-centered and if she wants something she will do anything to get it. Even though she has many barriers like the societal expectations and the fact that she is married to a man that is far different from the man of her dreams, she secretly tries to live her dreams by indulging in adulterous affairs with numerous men. These escapades of adulterous affairs throw light on her extreme dissatisfaction with her life.
“Emma dressed with the meticulous care of an actress making her debut”. Emma desires an exotic and luxurious life; one of her happiest moments is when she attends a grand ball. During that ball she feels as if she is living the life of Paul and Virginia’s heroine. She was the slave of her heart so she tried everything to fulfill her heart’s demands. She never lives in peace because she always compares her reality to her dreams. And when her life doesn’t go the way she planned she then realizes that she is not living the life of fulfillment she’s always dreamt of. But in turn when she takes those steps to turn her life around, she never really cares about who she’s hurting. She spends money so extravagantly not realizing that, that money could someday run out, it’s clear that she’s living under the illusion or impression that money is unlimited.
As readers we have a preconceived notion that a French middle class is flawless however in the novel we are given a different impression of the French society as the husband never really cared to know whether Emma is happy with her or not and Emma gets engaged in adulterous affairs.
Emma at the beginning has her mind set that she will never be able to enjoy her life and live happily with her husband, however there is a twist towards the end as when she is about to die she realizes that in reality he was the one who loved her the way she always wanted to be loved. “God!” she cried. “It’s horrible!” He flung himself on his knees beside her bed. “Speak to me! What did you eat? Answer, for heaven’s sake!” As she was under this illusion that she will never be able to live happily with her husband and that her husband would never become the person she always wanted, she never even tried to improve the marriage.
The reason that she lives under this illusion because she had read ‘Paul and Virginia’ who gave her high hope about life whereas in reality she was living with an average husband who was unsuccessful and incompetent doctor a society in which women are not free to fulfill their dreams and was not so rich. Emma was so much into the novel that she forgets that it’s just a fiction not the reality. She believed that whatever happened in the novel is possible in reality also and she also deserves to enjoy all the luxury. she was so influenced by this novel that she started living her life same as the characters in the novel did and that is the reason that she ends her life in the same way as the characters do in ‘Paul and Virginia’. She takes poison to end her life and she believes that she will die without any pain whereas in reality she falls suffers ill. When she suffers from this pain she realizes the difference between the life of her illusion and the reality as the way she selected to end her life without any pain caused her immense pain and the man she thought she’ll never be able to live happily with loved her the way she always wanted to be loved and the adultery in which she was involved and thought would change her life, will make her happy and get her a man the qualities she always wanted was not able to keep her happy for a long time.
Emma in not the only person in this novel who lives in the world of illusion. Even Charles faces the same problem as according to him, he and Emma are happily married whereas he is unaware of Emma’s adultery. As Charles lives under this illusion nothing gets better between Charles and Emma because according to him she is happy with him. He never completely accepts the fact that she is not happy with him. He thinks she is satisfied with her life and they are living cheerfully together. Even after when he came to know about Rodolphe and emma’s relation, Charles doesn’t completely accepts the reality of it “perhaps,’ he said to himself, ‘there was a platonic love between them.” He didn’t want to accept that she was cheating oh him. He even tries to escape the reality of Emma’s death as he was not ready to accept the fact that they won’t meet again “nevertheless, he made an effort to work up some feeling of devotion, to soar on the hope of an after-life in which he would meet her again.” Emma thought that it is not possible for her to live happily with Charles so she never even tried to improve her relationship.
In The Doctor’s Wife Kae face the problem of realizing the difference between illusion and reality. The doctor’s wife displays the way Kae thinks about Otsugi’s beauty. The novel’s beginning itself is an account of Kae’s natural emotions. The way Kae notices Otsugi’s appearance and shows her interest in her each and every minor detail like her hair, skin and eyebrows. Her curiosity to know about Otsugi is shown in a compelling way so that anyone can notice it because as the novel develops this curiosity and having Otsugi as her inspiration causes a big change in her life. She takes Otsugi’s outer beauty to reflect her inner beauty too. She takes her beauty to be like that of an angel. Her illusion about Otsugi’s beauty is what forces her to marry Otsugi’s son. This illusion is the reason that readers accept that a beautiful girl like Kae is ready to marry a man like Hanaoka. Kae’s illusion breaks when she sees Otsugi craving to get her own son’s attention and wants him to listen to her but not to Kae. Otsugi’s image of a powerful woman in Kae’s eyes shatters after seeing this reality. She realizes that her appearance belies her soul. The woman she thought is no less than an angel creates problems in her life.
When kae’s mother says that ‘’Not only beautiful, but she is also clever and wise. I don’t know her well enough to judge her intelligence for myself but those who do speak highly of her’’ shows that not only Kae but also the whole village was living in this illusion. The fact that the whole village was in this illusion and there was no one who had a different opinion about Ostugi would have affected Kae’s thoughts. This also shows that not only those people who knew her thought that she is perfect but also those who didn’t even knew her very well accepted other people’s opinion about her. She even compares her to an eggplant flower, which shows that Kae was only focusing on her outer beauty. When she first saw her she doesn’t get chance to talk to her that’s the reason she doesn’t know about her nature, the only thing she gets to see is her beauty.
Otsugi and Kae both wanted to sacrifice themselves because they both thought that through sacrifice they would earn the respect, love and attention of Hanaoka. They thought that this is an opportunity to get a higher position in the house whereas after the experiment Hanaoka is the one who gets the whole credit, recognition and respect. Kae, who thought she would get a better position in the house, was left with the devastating results of the new anesthetic. They were ready to sacrifice themselves because they were under illusion that whoever sacrifices will become important to Hanaoka. They were unaware that it might have devastating effects on them. This illusion helps reader to understand why they did everything to make Hanaoka test his anesthetic on them because its difficult for the reader to take the fact that someone is ready to risk their lives just to get Hanaoka’s attention.
In both the novels, the illusion gets between the solutions of almost all the problems. It’s the illusion which hide’s the imperfection. Characters don’t get to see the imperfection and that’s the reason they don’t do anything to improve it.