The wobbly cages descending into the pit, miners half-naked toiling in the scorching darkness of the mine’s galleries, the veins bursting and flooding the passages, the meager wages the miners receive at the end of the day, the wives desperately scouring for gruel each meal, the parents giving their daughters to the grocer to get flour and sugar; all recounted in a calmly detached voice.
Etienne, a vagrant worker, joined the fraternity and dissatisfied with the inhuman daily drudges and ambitious to rise above these defeated and resigned miners organized them into a union and led the strike. But the strike revealed as much the indifference of the owners and managers as the ignorance and violence of the miners. After many lives perished, many families shattered, many mines destroyed, the strike failed, the miners returned to work and Etienne left. In Germinal, Zola harmonized the detached narrative voice with the miner’s sub-human existence and their potential for gratuitous evil to evoke a chilling sonata that would haunt the reader long after the novel’s conclusion.
Posted by Leonard Seet
Labels: Emile Zola, exploitation, French, Germinal, literary novel, literature, realism, social commentary
Leonard Seet is the author of the novels Magnolias in Paradise and Meditation On Space-Time. His short fiction have appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Banana Writers and Pilcrow & Dagger. Through his writings, he probes the dynamics of existence, including human consciousness, good and evil, and rationality and spirituality. He received the B.S. in Physics and B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an MBA from Georgetown University.