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The shattering of romantic illusions forms the central theme of this novel. Emma Bovary, the protagonist, is unable to reconcile her passionate romanticism with mundane reality. She enters into adulterous relationships to fulfill her unrealistic desires. She also maintains a fashionable life-style in keeping with the life described in the books she has read. Her tragic end is an outcome of her withdrawal from reality. She cannot see herself as a failure and refuses to admit that she has indulged in excessive romanticism. Her suicide, then, is escapist. It underlines the shattering of romantic illusions.
The minor theme concerns the depiction of middle-class society. The lives of ordinary people are laid bare. Flaubert's realism becomes evident in the description of his characters. He neither exalts nor deliberately derides them: he merely 'depicts.' This is realism, the capturing and offering of glimpses into a life as it is lived. The author does not give an interpretation of the same. It is left to the reader to evaluate Flaubert's portrait of provincial life.
In keeping with the themes, the mood is somber. Emma's depressed state of mind engrosses the reader for a major part of the book. At such times, the season, either autumn or winter, reflects her mood. There are lighter, ironic moments throughout the novel as well, such as the Yonville fair, descriptions of Homais' writings, and Homais' arguments with the priest. Flaubert blends the serious, the comic, and the erotic to give the novel a sense of completeness.