Analysis of Naturalism Expressed in Germinal by Emile Zola - Affordable Quality Papers (2023)

During the second half of the nineteenth century, France underwent two major events: the transition from the First Industrial Revolution to the second and the end of the Second Empire followed by the beginning of the Third Republic in the 1870s. During this transition and the last moment of the corrupt Second Empire, the mine owners, who made up the upper middle class, heavily exploited the working class. By cutting down their wages and firing them, most of whom had been working in mines for generations, the mine owners wished to survive the increasingly competitive environment of mining industries. While it was true that the economic outlook was bleak, those mine owners still lived a luxurious life and continued to take advantages of the poor miners for their industries to survive. As a result, the working class was deprived of their economic power, and the class struggle and conflict escalated. Under the influence of ideologies such us communism and socialism, however, they started to rebel and form unions, which were violently suppressed. For example, in 1871 the Paris Commune, the first communist revolt in history, was bloodily putdown, causing more than 20,000 death toll. The extreme hardship experienced by the working class people, or the proletariats, contributed to the growth of realism and naturalism, realms of art and literature that devoted to the depictions of the life of those poor people as it is. Among these artists and authors, Zola was one of the most influential. In order to cry out for the justice for the proletariats and to warn the capitalists of the bloody consequences of over-exploiting them, Zola writes Germinal, which depicts the unfair hardships experienced by them in a naturalistic way. Naturalism is a scientific attitude in the pursuit of art and literature, and Zola’s passion for it stems from his early memories.

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Born in 1840 Zola was living a relatively adequate life with his parents. However, seven years later his father, an abled engineer, died with unfinished project in Aix, the countryside where they lived in. Still, Zola enjoyed the countryside and developed feelings for it. Besides the good time he had there, he was constantly exposed to miseries in his communities after he and his family moved to the slum inhabited by the poor proletariats, who were unfairly taken advantages of by their employees. Nevertheless, it is because of this experience that Zola takes compassion on them and would seek for their justice. In 1858, Zola followed his mother to Paris and continued his education, which he never completed, yet four years later, he received a job at Hachette publication. At first he worked as an art critic. Becoming more familiar with the world of art, he was deeply attracted by Jules Bastien-Lepage, a French painter known for his almost photographic works with realistic details. Those features, in fact, were naturalistic and inspired Zola to realize that the greatest works that reveal the life of the people stay true to the actuality. Moreover, his encounter with the philosopher and literary historian Hippolyte Taine led him to a deeper understanding of Naturalism. Taine believes “vice and virtue are products like vitriol and sugar.” In other words, he thinks that there are material causes to every social phenomenon or human behavior. Taking this idea to heart, Zola creates characters formed by all external forces such as hereditary characteristics, environmental conditions, and historical context. Zola puts this idea as “the soul being absent,” which becomes the core of naturalism.

To write naturalistically, Zola had to engage to the life of those whom he was writing about deeply. Following them and investigating them were one of the most used methods to get to know their life. Not only that, he also had to record their life meticulously so that the resulting books could contain truthful details, which were naturalistic necessities. In 1868, using the naturalistic method, Zola started the creation of the Rougon-Macquart series, to which Zola himself refers as “the natural and social history of a family in the time of the Second Empire.” The whole series includes twenty novels, in which the main characters share the same names but presenting in different settings, and Germinal is the thirteenth of them. To ensure that Germinal reflects the reality of the miners’ living, Zola applied naturalism to it – from the construction of the book to the various details of it.

On February 5th 1884, three days after the strike took place at Anzin mine. Zola went there himself. There he observed the workers and recorded their life revolving around the mine. During his visit, he went down into the mine to watch people working unceasingly in shady tunnels, which were so small that one man can only pass with his hands and knees on the ground and so small that people could barely get out if an accident happened. Not only that, the dripping pit, inflammable gas, and other details indicating the dangers that the miners faced; Zola recorded all these features of the mines and put them into Germinal. Moreover, he also includes details that made the mines a place of suffering such as the unbearable heat that makes people work in nudity. Other than investigating the pits, he also visited the taverns and even the houses where the workers lived, which allowed him to write the shocking scene where Catherine, the main female character and the daughter in a regular miners-family, takes shower in the kitchen while all her family was having meals. Besides the everyday scenes in the miners’ life, Zola even studied their food closely. In Germinal, the workers are always short on food, and what they eat the often is just vermicelli, the thinnest kind of pasta, dissolved into water. Depending on their economic ability, the liquid can be thin or thick. The details of the miners’ working and living conditions can go on and on, which proves that Zola did an in-depth inspection when he went to the Anzin mine.

Coming back from Nord, Zola was ready to write Germinal, the very first book that depicts the life of the proletariats in modern context and reveals the injustice they endure. The story starts with the mechanic Etienne Lantier being fired and seeking for job at Montsou. Soon he begins his work and lives with Toussaint Maheu who introduces him to the mine. The experience he has is not smooth: Mr. Hennebeau lowers the wages of the miners causing the whole Maheu family to be unable to afford food, and the little son becomes disabled from a collapsing incidence which is caused by unsteady timber that the mine company refuses to pay to fix. The company makes its workers miserable by exploiting them while the members in the company indulge in excessive clothes and food. Moreover, the owner of the grocery shop Maigrat, who is related to the mine company, takes advantages of the workers too: he keeps the prices of food high so that he can coerce the women to sleep with him in exchange of food. Those people possessing power over the poor proletariats keep shredding their economic income which puts them into subordinate positions and force them to be submissive. For instance, Toussaint is an honest and hardworking miner who has worked for the mining company for all his life. As a result, even though Etienne asks him many times to consider striking, he declines; it is not until his own son becomes unable to work, which is directly caused by the company’s parsimony, that he decides to stand by Etienne. The time seems to be ripe for the workers to quit and demand higher wages. Nevertheless, life gets harder after the strike. Besides the thinner porridge, even sugar and coffee become luxuries. Mining is the only option for the people to make an income. Without the mine they can hardly survive, and the company knows it. Therefore, by employing the Belgians instead, the mining company successfully threatens the striking miners. Thus once again, the people are powerless, and the mining industry wins. In this conflict, the people only have one way to survive, yet they give it up in hope of forcing their employee to provide them with better condition; however, the company has multiple solutions to its workers’ strike. Germinal ruthlessly reveals this apparent unfairness, accusing the capitalists of exploitation.

Demonstrating and accusing the unjust is not the only purpose of Germinal; it is also an exhibition of violence, which results from the unmerited treatment of the workers. Being taken advantage of for so long, the workers use intense violence to make their anger known. With their axes and cudgels, they march across the city to the bakery, where the women execute Maigrat and take his penis off. Even in the film, this scene is stark. Furthermore, the harmless father of Toussaint Bonnemort –– who starts to work for this mine at the age of eight and is still working, who is now infected with diseases such as black lung and thus weak and feeble –– strangles the rich daughter of the company to death. In the end, after the company gives the jobs to the Belgians, the unarmed miners come to the mine to protest. As the tension builds up, violence occurs again with the miners throwing stones at the army guarding the mine. The result of this is indeed more depressing: Toussaint Bonnemort gets shot to death. Even after thus many deaths, however, Zola continues. In the end, half of the Bonnemort family die, and all deaths happen just because of the strike, which is directly caused by the workers’ injustice treatment. Still, the level of violence in Germinal is just a speck of dust compared to what happened in the Paris Commune. In fact, the story in Germinal happens before the Commune, and Zola wrote the book almost fifteen years after it to warn the contemporary capitalists that the same bloodshed would reoccur if they continue to exploit their workers. Indeed, during the time when Zola composed Germinal, the conditions of the workers, especially of the miners, did not seem to be better. Statistics shows that one out of every five workers strkied, and half of them were miners, who had ten percent of the chance to retire disabled. Moreover, a later research confirms that about 150,000 people in France died from consumption yearly. Therefore, the workers’ situation should be the last to ignore, yet the appetite of the companies continued to grow larger: the capitalism in France was gradually transforming from liberal to monopolistic. Many smaller companies had to curtail the workers to barely survive, which only enrage them more. Therefore, Germinal, a story solely about a strike that happens before and eventually leads to the Paris Commune, is an alert for Zola’s capitalist readers, who still remembered the tragic event and probably would never want it to replicate itself.

To conclude, Germinal is a naturalistic literature, composed of details from factual life and thus reflecting the struggles that the real people endured. Although proletariats’ hardships were the least for the capitalists to care about during the Second Industrial Revolution since making the biggest amount of profits was what they aimed at, there were still people like Emile Zola who devoted their lives into unraveling the poor’s living conditions, making their voice heard, and seeking fairness for them. Furthermore, with the social awakening of the proletariats themselves, there was hope to stop their history of being exploited. During this time of darkness, the proletariats were conserving strength and building energies for earning their justice. The seed of a just world was germinating.

Works Cited
Brown, Frederick. ‘Emile Zola.’ Europe 1789 to 1914, e-book, pp. 2522-24.
‘Emile Zola.’ Industrial Revolution: Primary Source, PDF ed., pp. 123-34.
‘Emile Zola.’ Yale French Studies, e-book. Excerpt originally published in GALE CONTEXTUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD LITERATURE, , pp. 1739-42.
‘Germinal (1885), a Novel by Émile Zola.’ Planete Energies, 22 Nov. 2017, www.planete-energies.com/en/medias/cinema-literature-and-energy/germinal-1885-novel-emile-zola.
Hunt, Jonathan P. ‘Naturalism.’ New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, PDF ed., pp. 1601-04.
Perkins, Priscilla. ‘Psychology.’ AMERICAN HISTORY THROUGH LITERATURE, 1870 – 1920, PDF ed., pp. 923-28.
Petrey, Sandy D. ‘The Revolutionary Setting of Germinal.’ French Review, American Association of Teachers of French. Jstor, American Association of Teachers of French, www.jstor.org/stable/386731.
Potter, Polyxeni. ”Sometimes the Naked Taste of Potato Reminds Me of Being Poor.” PDF file.
Schehr, Lawrence R. ‘Deipnomachy, or Cooking with Zola.’ Nineteenth Century Franch Studies, PDF ed., pp. 338-443.
Weisberg, Gabriel P. ‘Naturalism in Art and Literature.’ New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, PDF ed., pp. 1604-07.
Maslin, Janet. ‘Review/Film: Germinal; From Claude Berri, A Zola Classic.’ New York Times, 11 Mar. 1994.
Biography In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A174391785/BIC?u=mlin_m_newtnsh&sid=BIC&xid=d45c1cec. Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.
Kaplan, Roger. ‘Zola lives.’ The Atlantic, May 1994, p. 129+.
Biography In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A15183643/BIC?u=mlin_m_newtnsh&sid=BIC&xid=5dab6085. Accessed 8 Feb. 2019. ‘Zola, Emile.’ PDF file.

FAQs

What is naturalism according to Émile Zola? ›

Naturalism was first proposed and formulated by French novelist Emile Zola, and it was introduced to America by American novelist Frank Norris. It is a new and harsher realism. It is a theory in literature emphasizing scientific observation of life without idealism or avoidance of the ugly.

What is naturalism in French literature? ›

The novels of the French writer Émile Zola (1840–1902) move toward a more extreme form of realism known as naturalism, taking its name from its allegedly scientific impulse to base its characters, events, and explanations on natural rather than supernatural or divine causes.

When did naturalism start in literature? ›

naturalism, in literature and the visual arts, late 19th- and early 20th-century movement that was inspired by adaptation of the principles and methods of natural science, especially the Darwinian view of nature, to literature and art.

What is the Voreux? ›

Le Voreux means “the voracious one.” Note the use of the word “devour” on this page. Look for instances in which the mine is compared to an all-devouring beast.

What is the main idea of naturalism? ›

naturalism, in philosophy, a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation.

What are 5 characteristics of naturalism? ›

The Elements of Naturalism. The major elements of naturalist works are determinism, objectivity, pessimism, setting, and plot twists. This is the philosophical belief that external causes are responsible for all the events in an individual's life.

Who is the father of naturalism? ›

Émile Zola was the leading figure of the 19th-century literary movement of naturalism and remains one of France's best-known and most celebrated authors.

What are the types of naturalism? ›

He distinguishes two main varieties: hard or reductive and soft or liberal naturalism. Hard naturalists view human beings with their different endowments as mere 'objects'—parts of nature—to be described, analysed and causally explained.

What is an example of naturalism? ›

Therefore, in naturalism work, the characters might be controlled by their environment or fight for their survival. A great example of naturalism is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. In the beginning, the Joad family are instinctive animals just trying to survive against the powerful forces of society and nature.

What is the conclusion of naturalism? ›

According to Naturalism, nature is real propelled by her own laws and eventually governed by them. It absolutely denies the existence of anything beyond nature, behind nature and other than nature. It does not have faith in spiritualism. Thus, it has absolute faith in nature which is real.

Who are the roots of naturalism? ›

History. The ideas and assumptions of philosophical naturalism were first seen in the works of the Ionian pre-Socratic philosophers. Thales, often regarded as the founder of science, was the first to give explanations of natural events without resorting to supernatural causes such as the actions of the Greek gods.

Who is the father of naturalism in education? ›

It was Rousseau who first popularised the naturalism movement, that's why he is called the father of naturalism. The three most crucial components of Rousseau's "naturalist" philosophy are the state of nature, natural man, and natural civilization.

Why is Germinal called Germinal? ›

The title, Germinal, is drawn from the springtime seventh month of the French Revolutionary Calendar and is meant to evoke imagery of germination, new growth and fertility.

What happens at the end of Germinal? ›

The germinal stage ends when the blastocyst implants in the endometrium of the uterus (days 8-9). After implantation occurs, the blastocyst is called an embryo, and it will soon obtain nutrients from the mother's blood via a temporary organ called the placenta.

What is the best translation of Germinal? ›

Considered by the overwhelming majority of critics as the best translator of Zola's Germinal, Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) was a social activist, a physician and a psychologist, whose best-known works concern sexuality and criminology.

What are the basic assumptions of naturalism? ›

For naturalists, nature is the only reality, the "correct" paradigm, and there is no such thing as supernatural, i.e. anything above, beyond, or outside of nature. The scientific method is to be used to investigate all reality, including the human spirit.

What is another term for naturalism? ›

In this page you can discover 17 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for naturalism, like: realism, unspoiledness, realist, empiricism, relativism, rationalism, positivism, subjectivism, post-modernism, postmodernism and anti-realism.

Which research is based on naturalism? ›

Ethnography is both a naturalistic research methodology and a written report that describes field study findings.

What are the most important qualities of naturalism? ›

The characteristics of naturalism include a carefully detailed presentation of modern society, often featuring lower-class characters in an urban setting or a panoramic view of a slice of contemporary life; a deterministic philosophy that emphasizes the effects of heredity and environment; characters who act from ...

What are the components of naturalism? ›

Here, the basic elements of naturalism mentioned: determinism, lower class plausible characters, objectivity, immoral contents, language of the actual world and pessimism are illustrated through discussion and substantiation of text extracts.

What is naturalism in simple words? ›

Naturalism is the belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world. Instead of using supernatural or spiritual explanations, naturalism focuses on explanations that come from the laws of nature.

Who is the most famous naturalist? ›

Charles Darwin: history's most famous naturalist.

Who is the philosopher of naturalism? ›

The self-proclaimed “naturalists” from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science.

How does naturalism affect society? ›

Function of Naturalism

The impact that naturalism has left on literary writers is colossal, leading to the evolution of the modern movement. Generally, naturalistic works expose dark sides of life such as prejudice, racism, poverty, prostitution, filth, and disease.

What is a naturalist called? ›

A biologist whose interest lies primarily in the study of plants or animals can be called a naturalist, although these days it's more likely she'll be called a natural historian, a botanist, or a zoologist.

What is the importance of naturalism in education? ›

Naturalism and Education

In naturalism, maximum freedom and central position is given to the child. This philosophy believes that education should be according to the nature of child. It advocates creation of natural conditions in which natural development of child can take place.

What is the opposite of naturalism? ›

Answer and Explanation: The opposite of naturalism is supernaturalism. Supernaturalism is the belief in the spiritual.

What is difference between realism and naturalism? ›

“Realism is a manner and method of composition by which the author describes normal, average life, in an accurate, truthful way,” while “Naturalism is a manner and method of composition by which the author portrays 'life as it is' in accordance with the philosophic theory of determinism.”

Which author used naturalism in his writing? ›

Major naturalist authors include Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Frank Norris and Edith Wharton. Among the most significant works in this style are Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, Dreiser's Sister Carrie and London's 'To Build a Fire.

Do naturalists believe in God? ›

While naturalistic psychologists deny the necessity of God in their interpretations, says Slife, theists view God as an essential element in their interpretation of the world. That difference in belief about God's role in human life renders the two viewpoints incompatible, says Slife.

What is the role of the teacher in naturalism? ›

Teacher plays the role of the observer in a naturalistic education scheme. Teacher facilitates the learning of the child. Teachers should be able to understand the child and help in the growth and development of the child. Teacher's role should be that of a stage setter.

What is naturalism critique? ›

He has three major critiques of naturalism: First, it (like psychologism and for the same reasons) is 'countersensical' in that it denies the very ideal laws that it needs for its own justification. Second, naturalism essentially misconstrues consciousness by treating it as a part of the world.

What is a naturalist essay? ›

Naturalistic writing includes the power of nature, pessimism, and irony to reveal that humans are not in control of their fate. The main concept of Naturalism is the belief that nothing exists beyond the. 650 Words.

Who were the first naturalists? ›

Our first two naturalists were a French father and son. André Michaux (1746–1803 [not 1802; Taylor and Norman 2002:xiv]) was born at a royal farm managed by his father near Versailles. He attended a boarding school for four years and studied both agriculture and Latin.

Why was naturalism created? ›

The literary movement Naturalism—which first spread in France beginning in the 1860s—developed partly in response to some big scientific discoveries that were being made about the natural world at the time.

What is the limitations of naturalism of education? ›

(i) It is absolutely based on matter but there is no supremacy of man. (ii) Aims of education are not convenient. Man comes from lower animal is criticized. (iii) It neglects books.

Who is the father of naturalism? ›

Émile Zola was the leading figure of the 19th-century literary movement of naturalism and remains one of France's best-known and most celebrated authors.

Who is the father of naturalism in education? ›

It was Rousseau who first popularised the naturalism movement, that's why he is called the father of naturalism. The three most crucial components of Rousseau's "naturalist" philosophy are the state of nature, natural man, and natural civilization.

What is naturalism in philosophy of education? ›

Applied to education, naturalism considers child as a gift of nature with potentialities for natural growth according to laws of nature. The child is an active individual capable of self- development. The aim of education is to develop the child as healthy and active personality in a natural setting.

How is naturalism different from realism? ›

Realism and naturalism are two separate but closely linked literary movements that began in the 19th century. Realism depicts characters and settings as they would actually have existed, while naturalism concentrates on the biological, social and economic aspects. Both seek to represent real life.

What are the 4 types of naturalism? ›

do not smoothly converge in the two theoretical traditions.
  • A Framework for Naturalist Analysis.
  • Indian Concepts of Nature. 2.1 Atomism : Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika. 2.2 Atomism: The Buddhist and the Jaina Views. 2.3 An Extreme Naturalism (Svabhāvavāda) ...
  • Methodological Naturalism: Nyāya Epistemology.
  • Moral Naturalism: karma and adṛṣṭa.
5 Mar 2012

What are the characteristics of naturalism? ›

The characteristics of naturalism include a carefully detailed presentation of modern society, often featuring lower-class characters in an urban setting or a panoramic view of a slice of contemporary life; a deterministic philosophy that emphasizes the effects of heredity and environment; characters who act from ...

What is naturalism in simple words? ›

Naturalism is the belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world. Instead of using supernatural or spiritual explanations, naturalism focuses on explanations that come from the laws of nature.

What are the main contribution of naturalism in education? ›

Naturalism when applied to education means putting the child at the centre of all educational processes and natural laws will be the teacher to teach the child according m his own nature. Nature of a child is of two types: physical nature and biological (psychological) nature. Former is external and later is internal.

Which research is based on naturalism? ›

Ethnography is both a naturalistic research methodology and a written report that describes field study findings.

Who was a famous naturalist? ›

Charles Darwin: history's most famous naturalist.

What are examples of naturalism? ›

Therefore, in naturalism work, the characters might be controlled by their environment or fight for their survival. A great example of naturalism is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. In the beginning, the Joad family are instinctive animals just trying to survive against the powerful forces of society and nature.

Who is the philosopher of naturalism? ›

The self-proclaimed “naturalists” from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science.

What are the characteristics of naturalism in education? ›

Main Characteristics of naturalism

Naturalism has no belief in spiritual values. Values can be subjective and relative. They can be created according to situations, needs, and conditions of life. They believe scientific knowledge to be of highest worth.

What is the style of naturalism? ›

Naturalism emphasizes everyday speech forms; plausibility in the writing (no ghosts, spirits or gods intervening in the human action); a choice of subjects that are contemporary and reasonable (no exotic, otherworldly or fantastic locales, nor historical or mythic time-periods); an extension of the social range of ...

What is the similarities between naturalism and realism? ›

While being two separate literary movements, realism and naturalism have been at times used as interchangeable terms because they share some deep-running similarities: 1) They are both "basic" views of life and humanity, stripping away the layers of romanticism to present a " natural" or "real" outlook of the work.

How is naturalism an extension of realism? ›

Adherents of the literary movement known as naturalism aimed to examine human beings objectively and represent life as it really is. An extension of realism, naturalism aimed for an even more realistic portrayal of the world without adding intervening moral judgments.

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