The title of the book, Germinal, is drawn from the calendar of the French Revolutionary, which meant the seventh month of that calendar. The title was meant to evoke the imagery of germination, growth, as well as the fertility. The author ends the story in a message of hope which has been a source of inspiration to reformists and socialists. Forced labor, poverty, greed, friendship and hatred, fate and destiny are the factors that have contributed to the growth, development and maturity of the writer’s end product of labor freedom.
The author, Emela Zola, was born in 1940 in Paris of an engineer father. Zola’s father died when he was just four years old and left his mother surviving on a meager pension. When at school, his widowed mother wanted him to take a law career, but he failed his examinations. He started to write as a romantic writer just before his breakthrough. He did a clerical job in a shipping firm before working in a publishing firm, in the sales department. Zola never hid his dislike of Napoleon III who succeeded in running the presidential position, but later used a coup d’état to be the emperor. He wrote art reviews and literary works for newspaper publications.
The Plot of the Novel
The novel Germinal was written in 1877. The central character of the novel is a very young worker who appears in a core mine seeking for work. He is a migrant in this town of Montour of the Northern France. It appears as if he has been longing to acquire himself a job, from the time he was sacked by the previous employer in a railway corporation. The main reason that led to the characters loss of job is only because he had assaulted one of his superiors. Etienne is the name of this major character and upon arrival in the mine, he befriends a veteran mine worker called Maheu. This new companion ensures his safety and accommodates him as well as showing him the way out in the mine. He becomes his first tutor in the cart pulling business; he shows him how to push the cart up and down the mine pit. Maheu is a man who has had his long life in the mine and lives around with his family.
The character of Etienne is portrayed as the one who is very hardworking young man, but one who is also very naïve. Although he is quit naïve, Etienne is assumed at the workplace to have inherited the aggressive character from his ancestors. This hotheaded and impulsive character of Etienne is revealed when he is under the influence of alcohol or under the very strong passions. However, Maheu and Zola are fantasized by the motivated nature of Etienne. He is portrayed to be a lover of the socialist principles.
In the course of going around the daily chores in the mine and back to Maheu’s house, Etienne falls in love with his daughter Catherine. She is also a cart pusher in the same mine, and the relationship is strained between him and another young man Chaval. The complexity of the miner’s lives remained a tangle. This is played out against an environment of relentless oppression and severe poverty. As the novel story progresses, their conditions continue to become poorer and poorer. The end result of the continued bad conditions of their working environment comes to an end point when the miners and the other workers decide to go on the strike. At this point, Etienne who has been a respected member of the community he joined rises to the leadership position of the organization and a political idealist of the mine workers movement.
In the foregoing, when Souvarine (the anarchist) preaches violence, the miners in conjunction with their families hesitate. As a result, the miners continuously become poorer and poorer and as the situation worsens day by day, a ferocious riot is sparked. To their dismay, the rioters are confronted by the police force and the army who suppressed their violent revolt. Their grievances became a forgettable incident. The disappointed workers are forced to go back to work, now channeling all their blame to Etienne for the strikes failure. The hatred between Etienne and Souvarine continues to grow. At one point Souvarine sabotages one of the shafts at the entrance in one of the Montour mine pits. In this incidence, Chaval, Etienne and his lover Catherine are trapped in the bottom of the pit. The novel draws a dramatic close in the ensuing long wait for Etienne’s rescue. He is finally rescued and fired but opted for remaining in Paris with Pluchart (Zola 1951, 40).
The book has been pointed out as one of the source materials that have greatly empowered the struggles of workers in their endeavor to seek for better working conditions. The book has emphasized on the principle of growth, development and maturity of the principles of work. This is in light with the initial understanding of the resource owners who used to view the workers and their workforce as part of their resource. This is the reason behind the various hindrances of the workers on their way to success. Such as the oppositions that are channeled towards their efforts by their fellow colleagues. According to the author, the road to freedom of exploitation in the places of work is not a short lived exercise, but has to take some time for it to succeed.
The Role of Fate and Destiny
He has depicted the aspect that a characters fate in a result of the type of heredity he/she receives from his/her predecessors. For instance, the character Catherine finds herself working in the mines where her father has spent years working. Etienne rose to be a leader of an opposing movement that did not want to have reforms in the workplace. This is in one of the author’s previous work Etienne’s father was a drunkard. Zola sought the task of researching a radical and reformist labor movement that was in the process to reform the capitalism.
Zola’s research has been much attributed to the lengthy and thorough involvement to the mine towns of the Northern France at the time when mining was the main economic activity. He personally descended the coal pits to vividly obtaining a sensation of the reality. He witnessed the after-effects of a crippling mineworker on a first hand strike in Anzin.
Although the author actually sympathizes with the suffering of these workers, he describes them as destructive and irrational at some extent. This fact is attributed to the fact that the labor movements in France at that time had very negative attitude towards work. As in other industrialized countries, the labor movements wanted their members to receive higher wages and at the same time work for shorter hours. Most of the workers had the socialism attitude in mind where they wanted a total transformation of the society and the equal redistribution of property. This is the reason why all labor are organizing activities and strikes were termed as illegal and broken up by all achievable force. The bourgeois of Zola’s audience viewed them the same. They thus did not leave a clear cut line on whether they were mild reformers or revolutionists.
The resource owners made the use of the ‘iron law of wages’, which were adopted by the philosophy of Marx. These laws argued that a capitalist economy wages are depressed to the lowest capable position that only allows workers to reproduce. The socialist slogan that was popularized by Karl Marx goes,” to each according to his ability, and each according to his needs." This mechanism allows us to see how workers were treated by their bosses just like a commodity and not like living beings (Zola 1954, 35). The strikes and the different opinions that the author and his audience develops are the effects of prioritizing between labor and capital.
Another conflict arises in the approach to realize the goal. The likes of Etienne believed in the power of socialism by popular election in the work force which would make the government to set a self-governance system. Etienne’s ideas lie in an opposite political stand of the likes of Souvarine who believe that the way to get rid of their problems is by force.
The author’s achievements
Zola has used the image of germination throughout this novel. He has used a crop as men who grow out of the land of the Greco-roman mythology of the dragon’s teeth. As the myth goes, Cadmus slid a dragon and planted its teeth, the teeth later sprouted into the armed men. Many writers had used this myth for political purposes, so Zola was not to be an exception. In spite of his radical mythical theories, Zola used more of the classical methodology in most of his works.
The author has received international recognition on the basis that through his book and other literature works. It is reported that at his funeral, the number of workers who had turned up was far more than any other group. They came to Zola’s cortege cheering and shouting in loud voices, Germinal! Germinal! This is because the book had come at a time when the plight of workers especially in mine fields needed redress. Zola is one of those people who are said to have a unique place in the revolution that took place in the French mine town as the book had come to signify the causes of grief (Zola 1976, 48).