Collective passion, consumed by the aims of wealth and power. A brief analysis of Germinal
The intellectual it’s an bidimensional character, that only exists and subsist as such if (and only if) it’s invested by an specific authority, conferred by an autonomous intellectual world (that is to say, independent from the religious, political and economic powers) whose specific laws he respects, and if(and only if) involves that specific authority in political struggles. (Pierre Bordieu, “Pour un corporatisme de l’universel”).
Zola carried out this definition. Above all, his novels stand on the necessity of reflecting the society with any reserve, and his revolutionary attitude of involving so much on literature as in the social reality, made him become on an example of a committed writer.
He practices as moralistic novelist. He tries to appeal the society, basically the ruling classes, about the reality of the workers world. With the help of the well-known obsession of naturalist writers for precision, the hyperrealism, Zola uses the harsh slang of the miners to describe the most extreme situations; with the aim of making the reader aware of the necessity of improving the labor, economic and familiar situation of the proletariat that works, in this case, in the mines.
Germinal is a parable of the love–hate relationship human beings have with the Earth: the death-rattle rings through it, in counterpoint to the urge we all have, until the moment of our death, to go on living. (The Guardian, Ruth Scurr)
The masterpiece Germinal, is set in the 1860s in a mining community in northern France. The story turns around the life of the miners and in the opposite, the life of the mine’s owners. The workers life could be described with the words “hunger” and “disease”, and after seeing that their situation couldn’t be worse and that they deserve something else as they were risking day after day their lives, they organize themselves to go on strike, asking for an increase. The strike is morally leaded by the Toussiant Maheu, but he and other members are killed by the police when he was trying to convince workers of other mines to join the cause. Without any moral leader, the strike gets weakened and the workers get back to work, but a new revolt takes part, in which the workers sabotage the mine. But the only result is the increase of victims, the original lack of money and the loss of hope; so the history ends with the back to work. The only thing that remains, is the seed, that someday will germinate. They planted it with their value and their blood, and someday, in search of the sun and liberty, it will germinate.
In this novel, we are related rawly the contraposition between the working class’ world and the bourgeois class’ living. To understand this situation, we need to take into account Marx’s concept of class struggle: for Marx, class struggle is the social and economic conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeois classes. This conflict is constant and inevitable in a society in which one class -the ruling class- controls the means of production. In turn the lower class, or the laboring class, can merely sell its labor to the ruling class in order to survive. In this way, the laboring class is in a constant struggle. That’s the reality that determinates the course of history, and from whom is inseparable.
Although Zola clearly sympathizes with their sufferings, he did not ally himself entirely with the workers. He portrays them as irrational and destructive mase, due to the fact that essentially all labor organizing activities, including all strikes, were illegal, and were routinely broken up by force. They knew which end would have those revolts, and they kept on with it. But, at this point, we should ask ourselves: what’s the worth with trying it?. Sadly is proved, that big changes always come with violence, but at the end, they report an own awareness. Zola is, after all, a bourgeois, and critisizes from an accomodate position.
To summarize, the fact that the writer wants to mark out, is that the aim of achieving both wealth and power are inherent to human beings, and that this selfishness always affects to those who less have and know, ignorance is a effective weapon. But this doesn’t mean that giving up the fight constitutes the unique solution, changes need years to become obvious, but first of all the seed, as is mentioned before, is needed.
- ZOLA, Emil, Germinal, Librairie National Française, Libro de bolsillo 1983
- SLAUGHTER, Cliff, Marxism & the class struggle. Published by New Park Publications. 1995. http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/en/slaughte.htm
- BOURDIEU, Pierre, Pour un corporatisme de l’universel in “Les regles de l’art. Genèse et structure du champ littéraire, París, Seuil, 1992, pp 459-472
- SCURR, Ruth, Rereading Zola’s Germinal, The Guardian, 19/o7/2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/19/emile-zola-germinal-ruth-scurr