In what ways are the characters of Emma Bovary and Raskolnikov like us, modern people?
At first glance, the characters of Emma Bovary and Raskolnikov can be classified as villains, as one is an egotistical murderer and the other a self-pitying adulterer. However, on closer observation, these negative traits are what define them as modern characters because they are confused characters whose complexity blurs the lines between moral and immoral thoughts and actions. This complexity makes them realistic allowing the reader to relate to them through their flaws as well as their positive qualities. One of the most obvious modern characteristics of the characters is that neither is satisfied with his or her current life. This discontentment and inability to accept their lives leads them to extreme actions (to try to change their lives for the better), Raskolnikov through committing murder and Emma through committing adultery.
Raskolnikov is an intelligent individual who feels a need to challenge both himself and his surrounding environment. When Porfiry Petrovitch discusses Raskolnikov’s article about the consequences of committing a crime, the reader is given an insight as to why Raskolnikov murders the old money-lender. His published paper states that when a crime is committed by an ordinary man, he should be punished for it; when a man who is superior in intelligence commits the same crime, however, his greatness acts as a buffer between himself and the punishment, thus excusing his crime. From this paper, the reader understands that Raskolnikiv committed the crime not only because he disliked the old woman but also because he wanted to simultaneously determine his own greatness and intelligence whilst proving the validity of his theory. Thus, Raskolvikov’s modern unhappiness with his current position in life leads him to perform actions which physically try to change his life. Another example of his unhappiness and discontentment with life is when he decides to drop out of university because he is unhappy with his role as a student. Raskolvikov understands that he is unsatisfied with his life. He tries to better it through change, believing that with each successive change, he will reach a new part of life where he will finally be content. Yet as soon as he reaches the next stage, he once again becomes unhappy and looks again for a way to reach the next stage. After he commits the murder, he does not feel relieved because he has rid the world of a nuisance, rather he is once again caught up in unhappiness due to worries about being a murderer.
Emma Bovary shares Raskolnikov’s discontentment with life. As a result of her loveless marriage and mundane society, she commits adulterous and thoughtless acts not only out of boredom but also as an attempt at satisfying her desires for love and money. She reveals her dissatisfaction with her life and her desire to change it by having affairs with Roldolphe and Leon, men who are superficially suave and intelligent or members of high society. These affairs were both a result of her annoyance with Charles and her attraction to romantic love, money and status (cultivated after she attends the ball at La Vaubyessard). She is also innately materialistic and believes that if she buys expensive possessions, her life will change for the better, bringing about fulfillment. As a result, she frequently increases her debt to Monsieur Lheureux by buying frivolous and extravagant furniture, clothing and gifts for her lovers. Yet with all these acts that are supposed to satisfy her, she does not reach the fulfillment she expects. Rather, after each act of change, she is still left trying to improve herself with yet another act ( even after having two lovers and constantly adding to her collection of expensive possessions, she still remains unfilled with life).
Both the characters of Raskolnikov and Emma are modern in that they are unsatisfied and bored with their lives. However, instead of trying to accept their lives and better them through acceptance, they use extreme actions to bring about change. However, even though these actions reveal and define their innate characteristics, they do not improve their lives. By the end of the novels, neither has achieved contentment through their actions.