Emile Zola was one of the most prominent nineteenth century French writers who proclaimed to follow a literary school of Naturalism. Naturalism was another off shoot of Realism; it meant simple narration of everyday reality of an individual’s life keeping in mind the individual’s heredity and also the social environment. It was greatly influenced by theories of Charles Darwin.
Emile Zola’s novels depict the dark social as well as political realities of the nineteenth century France and how individuals coped up or got sucked in depending on their personality traits, heredity and social conditions. Emile Zola’s books were mirrors reflecting the crudest of realities like poverty, inequality, prejudices, disease, alcoholism, prostitution etc, thus exposing the dark filthy side of life.
Germinal, written in 1885, is considered one of his excellent masterpiece. The novel is set in the back drop of a mining village in northern France. It is about awakening of the workers and miners when a learned outsider joins them and enlightens them about their own the harsh realities and unknowingly sows’ seeds of socialism and rebel. Unfortunately the eventual strike by the workers turns violent and their movement gets crushed by capitalist forces. The protagonist leaves the village and since it is spring time, he leaves with a hope that seed for better future has been sowed and it will germinate one day and bring in the change.
The novel depicts the harsh life of the miners, their extreme poverty, their oppression and exploitation by the owners of the mines which was a reality of nineteenth century France. Emile Zola actually went and lived in mining villages of northern France to experience the social conditions. It seems he even went down miles below into the mines to feel the amount of hard work and risks involved in a miner’s life. Each character of the novel is victim not only of the social conditions but also of his/her own mental condition- something that one is born with and has to live with. It is a struggle and conflict all the way beginning from the inner self.
Emile Zola tried to cover the entire spectrum of human emotions and social conditions through his many books. After more than 100 years, his work remains relevant even today . This reveals his profound insight about true aspects of humanity which have remained unchanged – the very need of violence, hatred, compassion and failure of all socio-political constructs to protect human life at all levels.