Directions: The ACT Reading passage below is accompanied by several questions. After reading the passage, choose the best answer to each of the questions. You may refer to the passage as often as necessary.
Certain reviewers believe that the novel Madame Bovary, an example of a well-crafted and provoking book, has an unusual and subversive theme that undermines its own medium: in short, these critics say that Flaubert’s remarkable piece of fiction is in fact a cautionary tale about the dangers of reading novels. As evidence, they point to its unsympathetic protagonist, Emma Bovary, who lives in books, romanticizing the simplest aspects of daily life—eating rich food, buying expensive clothing—as well as her relationships. Constantly dissatisfied with real life, she becomes cruel, dull-witted, and shortsighted, caring only about immediate physical gratification and material possessions. Her fantasies lead to her downfall; her relationship with her well-meaning but naïve husband Charles gradually disintegrates, her two adulterous affairs with Leon and Rodolfo end in disaster, her constant borrowing leads her family to financial ruin, and her desire to die in a gloriously dramatic fashion leads instead to an unexpectedly agonizing three days of death throes. She expects too much from life, and is punished horribly for it.
But is this undercurrent an essential theme in the novel, or simply a byproduct of character and plot? Are we really to assume that Flaubert thought the novel so dangerous that he wrote a virtual manifesto on the evils of losing oneself in fiction? If this is really the case, why would he choose to disseminate this message in the very medium he so despised (and, in fact, continued to work in for the rest of his life)?
Certainly Emma’s flawed personality, as well as her literary obsession, contributes to her downfall, but it is interesting to note that no other character in the novel reads habitually for pleasure. In fact, Charles spends the bulk of the novel engaged in the mundane activities of daily life: running a business, tending to family members, maintaining the household. He is naïve, true, but happy, at least until Emma’s penchant for romance begins to interfere with his responsibilities. Therefore, there really are no other appropriate characters with whom to compare her, although we can point out that the novel’s non-reading population tends to be a fairly socially responsible group. (It is also interesting to note that Flaubert hardly uses the sort of clinical, dispassionate language you might expect to see in such a novel; for example, even the most stolid characters are prone to “exclaiming” and “crying” their dialogue.) Perhaps Madame Bovary, then, was not meant to be a criticism of fiction itself, but a caution against allowing suggestible characters like Emma to have access to novels. The permissive environment in the Bovarys’ household contributes to their downfall and social ruin; the characters’ unwillingness to check Emma’s passions (and even their ignorance of the existence of such a problem) leads to the disintegration of their family.
The inability of Flaubert to escape his romantic leanings.
The failure of Emma to recognize and overcome her flaws.
The possible contradictory relationship between Flaubert’s message and his medium.
The belief that Flaubert’s novel was meant to be a treatise against overly romantic language.
By definition, themes are an inherently important, even essential, part of a well-crafted novel.
Flaubert did not see the inconsistency in writing about the dangers of reading novels within a novel.
Nineteenth-century French novelists were often inconsistent in their examination of themes.
If Charles had interfered with Emma’s literary obsession, he could have avoided his family’s downfall.
downplay the idea that Emma was justified in fantasizing constantly.
explain Flaubert’s simultaneous attraction to and repulsion by the arts.
provide an example of typical daily activities in a nineteenth-century French household.
emphasize that Charles did not read habitually for pleasure by listing his typical daily activities.
prove that Flaubert himself approved of overly romantic characters.
illustrate Flaubert’s use of hyperbolic language in a novel that supposedly decries romanticism.
suggest that Flaubert may have been unaware of his contradictory use of language.
demonstrate the romantic leanings of 19th-century French authors in general.
A college student who becomes so obsessed with video games that his schoolwork begins to suffer.
An employer overlooking an employee’s excessive time off and the resulting loss of productivity.
A moviegoer who sees five movies a day.
A man who golfs constantly.
review common preconceptions plaguing literary criticism.
explore tangential opinions regarding a minor work of fiction.
reinterpret a certain interpretation of a classic novel.
categorize the personality of Flaubert’s most famous heroine.
I and II only.
II and III only.
I and III only.
I, II, and III.
Her multiple love affairs.
Her poor financial investments.
Her passionate nature.
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