In Madame Bovary, Lheureux is one of the only examples of a character who is actually morally reprehensible through and through – while the rest of the characters all have their reasons for doing what they do, and they believe they are doing the right thing, Lheureux merely does things for financial gain, not caring at all about what happens to Emma or any other person that stands in his way. Lheureux is the perfect example of a minor character who helps to represent the depravity and selfishness that Emma starts to lose herself in as she attempts to buy herself into the upper class and into happiness.
His given circumstances are already not in his favor; when he is first discussed, he is described as having “the cunning of the Cauchois,” and he is described as being completely ugly, which reflects the ugly personality beneath. (Flaubert 101) He is perpetually ingratiating and always urges Emma to spend more money. The first time Emma and Lheureux formally meet, he wastes no time in dragging out “three Algerian scarves, several packets of English needles, a pair of straw slippers, and four eggcups in cocoanut wood.” (Flaubert 102) It is clear that all he wants is Emma’s money, and he will stop at nothing to get it. His greedy attitude causes Emma to be taken away with the spirit of spending, and leads her to financial trouble. Lheureux knows that this will happen, but does it anyway – her money still spends, and it is her fault if she ends up ruined.
Later, Emma hears from Homais about an execution that is to take place the following week, and that “it’s Lheureux who is selling him out; he has killed him with bills.” (Flaubert 134) Another person states that Lheureux is “a wheedler, a sneak,” and soon after Lheureux himself is attempting to enter the conversation by irritatingly wheedling himself in to their social circle. This is to demonstrate that even everyone else in the story looks down upon Lheureux as a terrible human being. All the same, they continue to do business with him, even Emma; it helps to showcase just how far she has fallen into depravity and selfishness.
Even after Emma dies, Lheureux displays completely morally reprehensible and tactless behavior; he arrives at Emma’s funeral and immediately starts hitting Charles up for money, taking advantage of the man, as many others start to do in this period of grief. (Flaubert 357) That cements the fact that Lheureux is a completely terrible human being, benefiting financially from Charles’ grief, only seeking to console him if it means more money in his pocket.
In conclusion, Lheureux offers the most stereotypically and clearly evil perspective of the entire book. His completely greedy, narcissistic and opportunistic personality helps to bring Emma down the same path, and does his part in bringing about her eventual downfall and plunge into destitution. All of his interactions with the main characters are about money and furthering his business, never having a completely personal relationship with anyone. It is all about business for him, and this makes him the character with the darkest priorities of anyone. While Emma is at fault for her own complacency and the mistakes she makes, Lheureux makes the opportunity for her to make those dark decisions happen, making him one of the most important characters in the book.
Flaubert, G. (1957). Madame Bovary; . New York: Random House.