A Sentimental Education Literary Elements

A Sentimental Education Literary Elements


Fiction, Realism

Setting and Context

The novel is set in Paris and outlying areas between 1840 and 1869 amidst the political turmoil of the July Monarchy

Narrator and Point of View

The point of view is third-person omniscient, covering the thoughts and feelings of a large number of characters.

Tone and Mood

The mood wavers between moments of elation, and moments of melancholic despair. At the same point, there is a mood of romance which pervades the entire novel. Flaubert's tone is largely disdainful.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is Frederic and the antagonists are numerous, including: Arnoux, Rosanette, and Frederic himself

Major Conflict

The major conflict is between Frederic and his own feelings. He is obsessed with Madame Arnoux, though he can never possess her. This causes him an incredible amount of grief and turmoil. This conflict leads him into further conflicts with friends and lovers, whom he hurts and offends so as to better position himself with Madame Arnoux.


Several climaxes occur throughout the novel's three parts. One could be found in the duel between Cisy and Francis, another could be found in the Revolution and the sacking of the royal palace, and the final climax is when Frederic desperately tries to acquire money to pay off Arnoux's debts, so that he and his wife will not be forced to leave Paris.


In the novel's third part, two important events are foreshadowed. First, Rosanette begins to grow sickly and reserved. It is suggested that she has an unknown element, when in fact, she is pregnant with Frederic's child. As well, when Deslauriers returns to Paris from Nogent, he speaks of a big event happening in his personal life. This event turns out to be his marriage to Louise Roque.


The writing of A Sentimental Education is incredibly lavish and descriptive, leaving little room for understatement.


The novel is filled with so many allusions to French plays, novels and public figures, that an explanatory "notes" section has been added to many new additions. The notes are helpful in understanding these complex and time-sensitive allusions. Many of the jokes are references to current events, which could be lost on the modern reader.


The novel is very rich in imagery. The primary platforms for Flaubert's descriptive capabilities relate to the female body, the city of Paris, and the natural environment. His descriptions of women are incredibly detailed and include such random notes as the size of Rosanette's wrist. He uses this imagery to highlight Frederic's romantic impulses. The novel also includes a near-geographic description of Paris. Flaubert writes of buildings and bridges and Champs-Elysées in the spring. His imagery paints the picture of a city that is lavish and ornate. He also describes the natural environment, with stylistics borrowed from the earlier Romantic style. He writes of the flow of the rivers, the color of the sky, the movement of clouds, and the vegetation with lingering detail. The imagery of A Sentimental Education is amongst its most memorable aspect.


Frederic is engaged in a lover's paradox in the second and third parts of the novel. He loves Madame Arnoux, though she does not reciprocate. When he engages in a relationship with Rosanette, Madame Arnoux finally begins to love her. When he begins to court her again, Madame Arnoux refuses. In doing so, he damages his relationship with Rosanette. Finally, when he settles back into his relationship with Rosanette, Madame Arnoux desires him again. It is a complex and frustrating paradox that ultimately leaves Frederic loveless.


Near the novel's conclusion, a paragraph parallelism is established, positioning Madame Dambreuse's name at the beginning of three consecutive paragraphs. The effect is of placing Madame Dambreuse as the principal actor of the scene, as she bids on the casket which Frederic so desperately desires.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The city of Paris is used as a symbol of French culture as a whole. When Frederic mentions that he resides in Paris, he immediately feels dignified amongst the respect of those in rural areas. There is also a political metonymy, whereby a Republican references anyone who opposes the Monarchy and wants to establish a new French government, as would occur during the Revolution of 1848.


At the novel's conclusion, a state estate is held to settle the debts of Arnoux. There, Frederic notices a casket holding Madame Arnoux's jewelry. Frederic states that the casket was "linked with his dearest memories" as though the casket itself was also capable of possessing the emotions. Carriages are also personified. For example, they say that a carriage "waits" for them, when a carriage is inanimate and does not wait for anything. Rather, it is the driver who waits.

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