GERMINAL – by Emile Zola – translated by Roger Pearson
Industrialization had many social costs, especially the effect it had on the lives of the working class.Discuss Zola's portrayal of coalminers in Montsou over the course of the entire novel and show how industrial labor affected their overall lives.Does Zola believe that the condition of the working class will improve or get worse?
Industrialization had a general positive effect to life, providing more jobs and changing transportation communication and commerce for france in the 19th century. When looking at it on a smaller scale, to keep up with all these changes many people had to suffer for them to work, someone had to do the “dirty” work. In Emile Zola's book “Germinal” he brings us to the everyday lives of these hard working people , the coal miners in Montsou. They are the lower working class of people that endure many social costs, risking and struggleing their own lives to keep capitalism moving. With fate and hereditary being the main factor in pre determining who works the pits and who collects revenue from the pits, Zola opens us to the “struggle between capital and labor” (Pearson, pg. xx) .The reader experiences first hand , the coal miners lives through starvation, oppression, and darkness. Suffering each day to survive we follow Zola's hero, Etienne Lantier through his journey face to face with cruelty and despair, never giving up on his dream for a better world. The fate and life of the Miners is foreshadowed by the first person Etienne meets, Bonnemort whose name means good death. Bonnemort explains that he got his name because of the multiple times he almost died down in the mine due to the dangerous working conditions in the mine. He is consistantly coughing and spitting out black phlegm that was collected by his body from all the black coal hes ingested throughout his fifty years down the mine. Even though he should stop working, money is so scarce that he refuses to stop working just so he can increase his retirement money by thirty extra francs yearly . But being so sick that he can no longer be in the coal face, hes instead works outside the pit in the freezing weather, further contributing to his illness , as a carter. Just by this one characters life we can already see how bad the conditions are for the everyday lives of the miners. Germinal also starts by introducing Le Voreux, the coal mine that mostly every man woman and child in Montsuo are forced to go down, in order to make money. Its represented “like some monstrous and voracious beast crouching there ready to gobble everyone up.”(Zola, pg 7) it is never satisfied, hungry for human flesh , dark , evil , and mysterious. The working conditions are so bad that Le Voreux is represented as being the hell on earth , and this remains constant throughout the book. As the workers enter the coal mine barefoot every morning , Zola gives the readers a feeling of disaster and death. The pit being so dark ,the miners only source of light are these little davy lamps, which are subject to firedamp, and will lead to explosions killing miners. The surface of the pit is filled with holes letting cold air and water leak throughout the walls on the half naked workers, threatening the mine to flood or crumble in on itself and crush everyone inside of it. As the workers are lowered five hundred and fifty four meters down the shaft ,the conditions become even worse. The air is humid being less circulated, with nothing but coal and firedamp entering the miners lungs, leading to disease and sickness. To get to the coal face assigned to each group of workers, they have to squeeze through small passageways , looking out for uneven walls and ceilings, so as to not break their skull or any other bones. When at their coal faces , each person has to twist their bodies into an uncomfortable position so the coal falls beneath them, meanwhile sweating so much they are drenched and covered with black coal as it...
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