Germinal: Strike Action and Workers

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Germinal is a novel set in northern France, in the 1860’s. It is written by the French writer Emile Zola, who offers what he thinks is the best solution to the problems in the industrial revolution through Germinal. The plot of the book is centered on a strike that occurs in the mining community of Montsou. The strike takes place because of the constant deteriorating conditions of the miners. Etienne, a newcomer to Montsou, is leading the work stoppage, protesting for the better working conditions. Different workers in Montsou have different opinions on how better conditions for the miners should be achieved. Based on what unfolds throughout the novel, it appears that Zola views Etienne’s solution as the best way to end the problems brought forth by the Industrial Revolution.

The industrial revolution was the transformation of production from manufacture by hand for small markets to machine manufacture for large markets. This was a period of time in which many people started to move from rural areas to cities that were built around factories and mines, like in Germinal. Although the industrial revolution had lots of positives, it also brought about lots of problems. Perhaps the biggest problem was the low wages, and the gap between the rich and poor. As seen in Germinal, everyone who could in a family worked, and this still hardly produced enough money to put food on the table. It would be very common just to have a slice of bread with some butter on it as a meal. As all these workers were struggling to survive, managers and especially the owners who started the company were very wealthy. However, it was not that the owners were not sympathetic towards the poor; it was more they were naive as to how bad their wages and living conditions actually were. Another one of the major problems with the industrial revolution was the conditions in which the people worked. In Germinal, the workers would have long shifts in the mines, and the work was very difficult and often very dangerous as well. The people in the mines would never know when a rock fall would be coming, or when there would be an explosion due to firedamp. Even worse, was the fact that women and children also were also forced to work in these conditions in order to give the family as much money as possible.

Political figure, Karl Marx, was an important figure during this time period in the novel. Therefore, some of the characters in Germinal reflect some of his ideas, while others are opposed to them. Marx thinks that in order for the class struggle between the proletariat (miners) and bourgeoisie (owners) to end, revolution needs to be brought forth by the proletariat. After this revolution, there would be a classless society, with equal distribution of wealth and ownership. Of the main characters in the book, I think that Pluchart and Etienne most closely imitate Marx’s ideas in Germinal. Pluchart is a leader of the International, which is trying to get the support of workers everywhere to bring about revolution. Etienne is deeply influenced by Pluchart and reflects many of these same ideas, which are similar to Marx. However, when he brings about the strike it is not very organized and it does not have enough support to succeed. Rasseneur also has views like Marx. However, Rasseneur’s ideas are much less radical. He wants better working conditions, but is not for a revolution or strike. Souvarine has views that are much different from the others. He wants violence and everything to burn down with the hope that something better will arise.

Etienne comes to Montsou looking for a job after he was fired from his last job. He was a mechanic, but was fired after hitting his boss when he was drunk. This was not unexpected because Etienne often becomes violent when he is drinking. Etienne quickly is hired, and works in the mine at Le Voreux. His close friend is Pluchart who shares with him the ideas of a revolution by the workers. Etienne understands this plan...
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