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Marxism as Myth in Zola's "Germinal"

Author(s): N. R. Cirillo
Source: Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sep., 1977), pp. 244-255
Published by: Penn State University Press
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Marxism as
Myth
In Zola's Germinal
N.R. CIRILLO
Emile Zola's Germinal is a national
epic
which locates the center
of its heroic encounter in the class
struggle.
It
is, moreover,
a na-
tional
epic
neither
nationalist, elitist,
nor
rightist,
written at a
time when such a feat
might reasonably
be
thought
to have been
impossible, particularly
in France. This national
epic
which is not
elitist
has, furthermore,
a hero
who,
despite
his
powerful
identifi-
cation with the
working
class,
is
largely
defined
by
certain tradi-
tional
literary archetypes.
Zola's
concept
of the class
struggle
is
largely
Marxian1
despite
the fact
that,
to the
despair
of
many,
he was
by
no means a Marx-
ist,2
although
he created in Germinal the
only major proletarian
novel of the nineteenth
century.
As will be demonstrated in this
paper,
his use of Marxist
theory
within the novel is
purely literary:
he transforms historic dialectic into historic
myth
and resolves
three
major
western
literary archetypes by
means of it. In Germi-
nal,
Marxism as
myth
is
inextricably
bound to western
myth
and
is its culmination.
Germinal remains nonetheless a national
epic.
Without
destroy-
ing
the essential
integrity
of Marxism as an international move-
ment, and,
in
fact,
reinforcing
this
by wedding
it
indissolubly
to
western
tradition,
he
particularizes
it as the available solution to
the national French economic and social crisis and
represents
it
metaphorically
as if it were as
purely
and
appropriately
Gallic as
The
Song of
Roland.
Epic
was the scale on which Zola best conceived the
novel,
and
it is the
epic
in its older and more traditional forms which
shapes
both the action of Germinal and its
weight
of technical detail.
Germinal evokes three
major
older
epics:
La commedia of
Dante;
La Gerusalemme liberata of
Tasso,
both with their
Virgilian
source
intact;
and The
Song of
Roland. Of all the
epics,
the Dantean is
dominant,
and even the most casual reader of Germinal must feel
its
presence.
It
provides
the structure of the entire
work,
begin-
ning
with the descent of Part
I,
rendering
the mine and all life
associated with the mine
through
the essential
metaphor
of dam-
nation,
and orders the conclusion of the novel
through
the action
244
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GERMINAL: MARXISM AS MYTH 245
of ascent and the idea of resurrection. The
pervasive
Dantean
pre-
sence,
along
with the evocation of the other two
epics, argues
the
universality
of Zola's case
by investing
the miners of Montsou
with the
symbolic authority
to
represent
not
only
the nineteenth-
century
worker but the fulfillment of man's historic fate in the
West.
Unexpectedly
classical for Emile
Zola,
self-proclaimed
natural-
ist and sometime
journalist,
Part I of the novel
provides
all the
essential narrative and rhetorical elements of the work. The first
of the six
chapters
which
comprise
this
part
most
powerfully
ex-
presses
the
organic mythic conception
that is the basic
metaphor
of the
novel,
largely through
Zola's
lyric
evocation of
archetype
as a function of
character, setting
and action.
The
very
first line of the novel calls forth the Dantean
universe,
even
echoing
that familiar iambic triad of
prepositional phrases,
although
Zola's involvement with the material world
is,
of
course,
much more direct than Dante's. Dante's
opening,
"Nel mezzo del
cammin di nostra vita. . ."3
instantaneously
identifies a
metaphysi-
cal
geography,
his road to be measured thereafter
through imagery,
abstract number and
geometric
axiom. This is the road which has
led the
poet
into the "selva
oscura,"
in which "la diritta via era
smarrita,"4
into that forest of
powerful images
of darkness and
loss of faith.
The demands of the novel
notwithstanding,
the unmarked dark-
ness of the
opening passage
of Germinal evokes
immediately
Dante's
world: "Dans la
plaine
rase,
sous la nuit sans toiles. . ."5 in which
the undifferentiated "we"
implicit
in the "nostra" of Dante's
first line becomes the "homme" unnamed who ". . . suivait seul
la
grande
route de Mar chiennes Montsou."6 The universal
geog-
raphy
of Dante
becomes,
necessarily,
the
particularized landscape
of the nineteenth
century.
If one of the
primary
features of Zola's
landscape
is fact
-
the
road
is,
materially,
that from Marchiennes to Montsou
-
it omits
neither
magic
nor
mystery.
Zola's
naturalism,
unlike that
of,
for
instance,
the
Goncourts,
was a true
cosmology.
Born of traditional
religious
and cultural
myth
and the science of Zola's
day,
it is
clearly germinative
of modern
ideological myth.
One factor which
accounts for the
potency
of its
expression
in Germinal is the con-
stant evocation of the
magical
and
mysterious
as
organically part
of the real and factual. This
expression,
however,
is
shaped by
the
literary archetypes,
most
notably
the Dantean.
From the
landscape
"sans
toiles,"
the unnamed man immedi-
ately begins
to
distinguish
structures which
appear
to him first as
manifest
reality,
as fact: ". . . d'une vision de
village
aux toitures
basses et uniformes."7 He walks forward
precisely
"deux cents
pas."
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246 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES
But as he
approaches,
the hard
reality
of what he sees
begins
to dis-
sipate
and becomes
ultimately
". . . cette
apparition fantastique,
noye
de nuit et de
fume,"
from which ". . . une seule voix mon-
tait,
la
respiration grosse
et
longue
d'un
chappement
de
vapeur,
qu'on
ne
voyait point."8
"Alors l'homme reconnut une fosse."9 "Une
fosse,"
not "une
mine." The two hundred
paces
the man has walked for a closer
look have moved him from the world of fact to the world of
truth,
from
gables
and roofs to fantastic
apparitions.
What the man
recog-
nizes
("l'homme reconnut")
is the truth: it is a
"fosse,"
not
just
a
phenomenon
identified
by
the neutral and technical word "mine."
The word "mine" was the
obvious,
most
commonly
used word
Zola could have
selected,10
but
surely
does not
evoke,
as "fosse"
does,
the first
meaning
of
"grave,"
the second
"pit."
It
is,
of
course,
Dante's word as well. "Che fai tu in
questa
fossa?"11 will
ring,
if
implicitly
,
just
as
solemnly
for "l'homme"
of
Germinal,
the flawed hero Etienne
Lantier,
on his
way
to
po-
litical,
historical
and,
needless to
say, temporal
resurrection as it
does for the
poet
in search of
grace.
Etienne moves two hundred
paces
closer, and,
like the
pits
of
Acheron across which the
poet sights
"un vecchio bianco
per
an-
tico
pelo,"12
Charon the
ferryman,
Etienne discovers that the
pit
of Le Voreux is served
by
"un veillard vtu d'un tricot de laine
violette,
coiff d'une
casquette
en
poil
de
lapin,"13
the haulier
known as Bonnemort. In two
senses,
Bonnemort will
ferry
Etienne
into the
pit: first,
by being
the
agent
of his introduction to a work-
ing
team of
colliers, and, second,
by imparting
to him at
length
his
personal history,
one that will
represent
at the outset the collective
tragedy
of the Montsou miners.
In this last
capacity,
Bonnemort
is, also,
the bard of the oral tra-
dition,
the illiterate
singer
of the chronicles of a
place
and a
people.
He has earned the name Bonnemort
by defeating
death three
times,
and the accidents are reminiscent of the more bizarre
pun-
ishments of the Dantean
pit:
". . . une fois avec tout le
poil
roussi,
une autre avec de la terre
jusque
dans le
gsier,
la troisime avec le
ventre
gonfl
d'eau comme une
grenouille."14
Bardic
singer
and tienne's
ferryman, or,
in the broader
sense,
guide,
Bonnemort is also a
magician, having
returned three times
from the dead. He
is, then,
in all
functions,
a work-coarsened
Virgil
as
well,
the familiar
Virgil
the
magician
of medieval icon-
ography
and the
Virgil
of Dante.
Furthermore,
Bonnemort 's
climactic murder of the fat and
blooming
Ccile has its
Virgilian
implication:
Dante is
strongly
admonished
by
the Poet15 to
quell
his
feelings
of
compassion
for the creatures of the
pit,
for
they
are
nothing
but embodiments of the sins
they represent.
As a result of
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GERMINAL: MARXISM AS MYTH 247
this stern
lecture,
Dante's behavior becomes more
aggressive,
and
he
stamps,
at one
point,
on the head of one of them.
Damned
finally
to total silence and
incomprehension by
the
ravages
of
fifty years
in the
pit,
Bonnemort will
complete
his
song
with the
apparently
senseless murder of
Ccile,
committed with
all the insouciance of the senile and the
damaged.
Ccile,
intro-
duced into the novel
immediately following
the descent of the
first six
chapters,
is indeed the
ripe
embodiment of all the sins of
the
bourgeoisie.
Her murder
by
Bonnemort later in the novel
paral-
lels
structurally
the murder
by
the mine of
Catherine,
the
starving
counterpart
to
Ccile,
who cannot be saved either
by
Etienne's
words or
actions,
colored as
they
often were
by
hesitation and reser-
vation.
It is also
through
Bonnemort in this
opening chapter
that the
other two
literary archetypes,
La Gerusalemme liberata and The
Song of
Roland,
are
introduced,
although
these will never be
fully
realized and will function
only
within the
major
Dantean structur-
ing.
Both
Village
240 and Montsou are
metaphorically
conceived
as
captive
of a
foreign power, economically captive,
that
is,
by
the
absentee Parisian
ownership,
and this is
briefly
shadowed forth
by
Bonnemort in this first
chapter.
In
doing
so,
he fulfills his bardic
function
by revealing
the source of
religious
awe,
and there is no
irony
in what Zola does here. When asked
by
Etienne who owns
the
mine,
Bonnemort hesitates and answers
vaguely
in broken
sentences. Narrative
replaces dialogue
in the
only interruption
of
Bonnemort 's
song,
and it is the
quality
of his
response
which be-
comes
significant:
"Sa voix avait
pris
une sorte de
peur religieuse,
c'tait comme s'il et
parl
d'un tabernacle
inaccessible,
o se
cachait le dieu
repu
et
accroupi,
auquel
ils donnaient tous leur
chair,
et
qu'ils
n'avaient
jamais
vu."*6 For
Bonnemort,
Parisian
capitalism
is a malevolent and
ultimately
even a
foreign god
who
sends armies to maintain its hold on the
captive mining
towns.
The
metaphor expressed
here and
firmly developed
later in the
novel
belongs
more to Tasso and The
Song of
Roland than to
Dante, for,
despite
the
powerful
national
plea
that
shapes
so much
of the
Commedia,
Dante's Italian state remains ever an abstraction
structured
-
and
occasionally jerry-built
-
by
his version of God's
ordinances. Zola's sense of
place,
like Tasso
's,
is
especially
con-
crete, and,
from this first
religious
evocation
onwards,
the devel-
oping correspondences
work to
deeply
ironic effect
throughout
the novel as
Holy Sepulchre
becomes sacred soil and Christian
works become manual labor.
Thus
early
is Zola's version of Marxist
principle expressed,
bonded, however,
to older traditions: work
legitimatizes
owner-
ship
and the means of
production
is the workers'
rightful property;
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248 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES
capital
interests are therefore
foreign,
and
any attempt
to enforce
these interests must
necessarily
take the form of invasion. Like
Disraeli's idea of rich and
poor
as two
nations,17
Zola's version of
the economic conflict between worker and
capitalist
is transcen-
dent:
they
are two armies at war.
Zola fulfills this theme later in the novel in
powerful
evocation
of The
Song of
Roland. The
"foreign"
Parisian owners send na-
tional
troops
to break the
strike,
and
they
come,
like the
Saracens,
fearfully armed,
to defeat the
ragged, starving
miners who defend
that soil into which
-
and Zola makes much of this
image
-
they
have for
generations poured
their blood. The strike
is,
in
reality,
broken
by
the traitorous Chaval
who,
like
Ganelon,
greedily
suc-
cumbs to the
flattering
offers of the
enemy
and leads a small
group
back to work.
Structurally
and
dramatically, then,
Chapter
1 makes the
epic
statement: the cosmic
proportions
of the work itself are
revealed,
and the concrete circumstances and situations of the narrative are
identified. No loose and
baggy monster,
Germinal
preserves
an un-
wanted
harmony
and
economy throughout.
This is
largely
so be-
cause the work hews
mainly
to the
development
of two elements:
that of Etienne Lantier in the familiar and traditional
epic
mode
as the hero who achieves
grace by successfully overcoming
tests of
insuperable difficulty
in a universe which is
absolute,
despite
the
fact that it is
only history
which has
preempted
God;18 and, second,
the
development
of the
centrality
of the mine itself as a
physical
setting
and as the
symbolic
embodiment of both those tests which
Etienne must overcome and of the fallen world to which he must
help bring
order.
It is therefore with
great economy
that the novel moves from
the
components
of
Chapter
1,
from
Bonnemort,
bard and
patri-
arch,
to the
family
in which he
occupies
this latter role and which
will
be,
quite immediately,
the
agents
of Etienne 's encounter with
the
pit. By introducing
the women of the Maheu
family, Chapter
2
continues,
subvocally,
the
epic
theme,
strongly evoking
Tasso
and his
Virgilian
source. Unusual in Zola's
customary
character-
izations of
women,19
both
Maheude, fecund, maternal,
and fierce
protector
of home and
family,
who is
ewiges
Weib turned warrior
at the
end,
and
Catherine,
the
epicene
and nubile child whose
sacrificial death is simultaneous with her initiation into woman-
hood,
are
immensely positive
creations.
In the case of
Catherine,
the
archetype
of the female warrior
is
expressed
in more than
just
a
general way.
At the end of
Chap-
ter 3 of Part
I, Etienne,
having just
overcome his first test in the
mine,
those
grotesque,
subterranean tortures of the
galleries,
dis-
covers that his
companion
is
merely
dressed in the
ordinary
uni-
form of the collier and is in fact a female. Like Tasso 's Clorinda
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GERMINAL: MARXISM AS MYTH 249
(and
her
source,
Virgil's Camilla),
Catherine wears her masculine
garb
with
grace.
Her collier's clothes are battle
dress,
both meta-
phorically,
in that
they
are her
daily
work
clothes,
and
literally,
in that
they
clothe her
during
the
pitched
battle with the
troops
sent
by
the owners of the mine: ". . . on
aperput
Catherine,
les
poings
en
l'air,
brandissant elle aussi des moitie's de
brique.
. . elle
crevait d'une envie de massacrer le monde."20
In the widest
sense, then,
the six
chapters
of Part I
provide
the
essential
metaphor
of descent into the
pit.
All of Germinal is cette
fosse:
the fate of the mine
equals
not
only
the economic survival
but the survival in
every
sense of the
characters,
all of whom are
damned
by
its fortunes.
Consequently,
Montsou and
Village
240
are the cities of Hell on earth. The descent of Part I is followed
immediately by
the breathless
luxury
chez
Grgoire,
which
opens
Part II. Food and
physical
comfort dominate the
dialogue
and nar-
rative of the
opening
of
Chapter
7. If the obvious sins
represented
are
greed
and
gluttony,
it becomes
increasingly
clear as the
chap-
ter
develops
that all this exists
upon
the tenuous economic
power
of the
typical nineteenth-century bourgeois.
The
Grgoires
are not
masters but have
simply mortgaged
some
power
from the "insati-
able"
masters,
the
foreigners
from Paris. La
Piolaine,
the
Grgoires'
substantial home
is,
like Armida's
garden
of
delights,
an
illusion,
which can as
readily
be
destroyed by
the
power
of truth.
Truth,
however,
for La Piolaine is the force of nature and
history:
a
mine disaster or a revolution can
instantly dispell
its
magic.
The resident sins of La Piolaine are
greed
and
gluttony,
as those
chez Hennebeau are
greed
and
lust,
both in their
practice
and in
their frustration. To these traditional
sins,
Zola adds one
unique
to the industrial nineteenth
century
and common to all the bour-
geoisie
of the novel: economic
exploitation.
It is the cardinal
sin,
but
only
in the sense that it is the sin of a
system
and a whole so-
ciety.
All the
practitioners depicted
in this novel are themselves
venial. There are no bloated
capitalists
here,
engorged
with the
blood of
workers;
only,
as d'Annunzio would so
pithily put
it,
the
worms in our
daily
bread,21
mindless of the
corruption
of their
way
of life.
Locked into their class and its historical
development,
the sin-
ners of
Germinal,
the
bourgeoisie,
are victims as well. Because of
this,
the drama of
salvation,
consistently
evoked
by
the Dantean
structure and
imagery,
is located not in the interior arena of the
soul but in the exterior arena of
history.
But the sin of
exploita-
tion must be
punished,
however
tepid
the
atmosphere
in which it
is
practised.
The
thoroughly impersonal
murder of Ccile
by
the
innocent Bonnemort is but one
metaphorical representation
of the
underlying
thesis of class war and class revolution. Its
logic
lies
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250 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES
there and not in the action of the
novel,
because it
presages
the
historic theme realized at the conclusion.
The heroic
role, therefore,
of such a social and historic
epic
is
shaped largely by
the older forms of national
epic, finding
its arche-
types
in
Aeneas, Roland,
Boiardo and Rinaldo. The
personal
salva-
tion of Dante's
work>
so reliant
upon
free will and
reason,
is not so
much
superseded
in Zola's world as made
dependent
for its reali-
zation
upon
the historic
process.
tienne's
personal
survival from
the mine disaster at the end of the novel is
amplified
into resur-
rection
only
after his talk with the oracular
Maheude,
which con-
firms his final course as he leaves Montsou
forever,
in
step
with
the hammer blows of revolution he
imagines
he hears beneath him
in the mine.
Etienne 's
development throughout
the novel
consistently
con-
firms the national hero as model. Measured
against any ordinary
set of
standards,
Etienne 's
temptations
are no
temptations
at all.
His love for Catherine
(and
it is
love,
not
lust)
and his desire to
better himself
are,
after
all,
the
very
stuff of the middle class dream
and the art it often
generated
in the nineteenth
century.
But Zola
early
established
through
the structural
metaphor
of descent in
Part I that this middle-class
society
is a fallen world and its values
corrupt.
The vision of either a clean white shirt or
domesticity
with Catherine has the
power
to lull Etienne 's drive toward action.
Measured
against
the
revolutionary
standard or the older one of
national
duty,
these are indeed
temptations,
as love and comfort
have
always
been for the national hero. In Zola's
world,
revolu-
tion fulfills but does not
supersede
the older version of a national
and historic
purpose
which defined the traditional
hero,
for Zola
anneals it to both the historic and the national.
More from the title and its function within the structure than
from
any
other
component
of the novel can one
argue
Zola's ad-
herence to the
principle
of the historic
necessity
of the revolution.
The thirteen month time
span provides amplitude
for the com-
plex
events of the
novel, but,
more
richly,
a
symbolic chronology
as
well,
one which
exploits
the Dantean structure in order to trans-
cend it. The descent of Part I takes
place
in March
which,
if evoc-
ative of the
dying
commemorated
by
the Good
Friday
of Dante's
work,
reaches
beyond
it to its own naturalistic
origins.
The resur-
rection of Part
VI,
thirteen months
later,
once
again exploits
the
Dantean in order to transcend it. Dante's ascent on the dawn of
Easter
morning
is
simultaneously
action and
symbol.
There is no
such
simultaneity
in Zola's
handling
of tienne's ascent. The res-
cue from the mine is treated as
just that,
with no resonances. Its
symbolic meanings require
a
separate chapter
for their
develop-
ment,
one in which tienne's return from the dead is rendered its
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GERMINAL: MARXISM AS MYTH 251
full and
logical significance by
its
re-expression through
Zola's
unique
use of Marxian
teleology.
This is the
concluding chapter
of
the
novel,
and it is
only
in its last
line,
in the
concluding
line of
the work
itself,
that the title is
explained.
Etienne 's
personal
resur-
rection is measurable
only by
the collective resurrection of that
exploited
nation of
workers,
and Zola ties their moment to the in-
evitability
of
nature,
to the eternal rebirth of the
springtime.
The revolution is
historically necessary.
It will "clater la terre."
It is
naturalistic,
not
mechanistic; inevitable,
not
pre-determined.
As he walks toward the
city,
toward his
newly
committed life as
an
activist,
Etienne
imagines
he hears the hammer blows of the
miners hundreds of feet below him in the mines: the historic
course of revolution must be
shaped by
men,
by
the hands of the
workers,
by,
in this final
image,
workers
quite literally
in the womb
of the earth. As much
Hegel
as Marx here in this
concluding image
of earth and
time,
Zola's version of the cosmic will is that it works
itself out both in
space,
that
is,
in
nature,
as well as in
history.
His characterization of
Etienne,
flawed hero that he
is,
with his
archetypal
evocations,
draws
heavily
from
Hegelian thought
as
well,
seminal at
any
rate in the formulation of modern
mythicism
and the
concept
of the
archetypal.
Thus,
Zola welds historic
pur-
pose indissolubly
to national
purpose,
this latter
expressed
as the
loosest sense of
community,
as locale. He
is, essentially,
a
poet;
like all
poets
before or after him who would
conjure
with the
poli-
tics of
others,
Zola is
finally
his own
man;
his
politics, mytho-
poesis.
He uses Marxian
thought
as he used the
Dantean,
as a for-
mal structure to be
exploited,
and in
continuity
with western tra-
dition.
Tradition and the
unique experience
of a
people,
a loose but in-
telligible
notion of
nationality,
is both the
expressed^idea
of the
final
chapter,
that which defines the
significance
of Etienne 's
resurrection,
as well as the form of Zola's modification of Marx's
internationalism. The conclusive social and
political
vision
belongs
to Maheude in this final
chapter.
Fecund
still,
she is ". . . lamentable
dans ses vtements
d'homme,
la
gorge
et le ventre comme enfls
encore de l'humidit des tailles. . . ,"22 What
begins
here as dia-
logue
becomes almost
immediately
indirect
discourse,
its authori-
ty
therefore unmistakable. But it is nonetheless attributed to Ma-
heude,
to a French female miner. The
exploited
nation of workers
is
represented by
the citizen who has suffered most
cruelly,
who
is defined
by
that
place
and
by
that
long
and
unique
tradition
germinated
in that
place.
Zola would
generalize only
in this
way:
people
before doctrine. The Arme
noire,
the
dragon's
teeth of
the
concluding image,
is bred in that soil and is not
only
a matter
of
history
but of
place.
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252 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES
This idea of
nationhood,
of
community,
is
expressed through-
out the novel
always
as a
primal,
autochthonous
quality.
Distinct-
ly Hegelian,
it
may
have
only
come to Zola as an
infection,
"la
malattia
ege
liana"23
having
achieved
epidemic proportions by
the
Eighties. Germanic, then,
in its
way,
Zola's idea of nationhood
lies closer to Volkstum than to Staat. The sense of
place
and its
conventions have
magic,
ritual
qualities
in Germinal. The sense of
place
as a determinant
is,
of
course,
a truism in the
general
criti-
cal definition of naturalism. It is Zola's distillation of this idea to
its
essentials,
to the ritualistic and
magical,
to,
finally,
its
mythic
origins,
which is
unique.
The structural
importance
of the mine
imagery
in the
develop-
ment of the sense of
place
has been much noted elsewhere and
mentioned here in the
specific
context of the Dantean. The ima-
gery itself, furthermore,
is a
type
of
personification
which,
of
course,
justifies
the
Jungian reading
of the text. The
personifica-
tion functions otherwise as well in its
symbolic,
that
is,
adum-
brative,
expression
in that the mines become an animistic
pre-
sence.
Congruent
with
this,
the work of the miner and often his
feelings
about his work are
ritualistic,
for he views himself as
wresting
substance from a
living creature,
as
having
to subdue or
propitiate
it.
These
gods
of
place
are
countered,
ironically, by
a resident
trinity
of human
agents, Etienne,
Souvarine and
Rasseneur,
them-
selves endowed with certain
magical
or
symbolic qualities.
A
fourth
character, Pluchart,
the communist
organizer,
is
similarly
conceived,
although
he remains external to the
community.
This
mythicization
of
setting
and character is not
only congruent
with
the essential
conception
of the entire novel but
provides
the basis
for^Zola's damning critique
of
contemporary political ideology.
Etienne,
the hero whose resurrection has
already
been dis-
cussed,
returns from his
grave physically
transformed into an old
man,
white-haired and
bent,
embodying
the
magic
of his
experi-
ence. His
antagonist
is not Rasseneur the
Publican,
the minimalist
who,
like
Matthew,
bears witness and whose
socialism,
however
humane,
is
compromised, tepid
and
ineffective,
but Souvarine the
anarchist. Transfixed
by
the
undigested experience
of horror and
guilt
at the execution of his
mistress,
Souvarine is characterized
by implacable heartlessness,
courting
universal
cataclysm
as nar-
cotic
against
his
pain.
The
Russian,
satanic in his
promotion
of
the
principle
of
disorder,
apparently
feels affection for
only
one
fellow
creature,
the rabbit
named,
no doubt in vicious
witticism,
Poland.
The leitmotif of Souvarine
obsessively stroking
his rabbit and
spinning
his soulless theories of total destruction evokes the
image
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GERMINAL: MARXISM AS MYTH 253
of the anarchist as
diabolist,
the warlock with his
familiar,
whose
skill as an
engineer
will become the
technology
of
meaningless
destruction. Zola dramatizes the
suffering
of the miners as the
only
salient result of Souvarine's
skillful, camouflaged weakening
of the mineshaft. None of the other
promised
effects of Souvarine's
theories
materializes,
as he watches the
collapse
of the
mine,
emo-
tionless,
from the side of the hill. In no
way
can Souvarine's act
be construed as
anything
but
total,
pointless calamity.
Its
pointlessness
is clear in
light
of the fact that Souvarine is
not determined
upon
such a course of
action, although
the theme
of destruction has
provided
a consistent
litany
in his anarchist
musings,
until after the
killing
of Poland has served him with a
dinner he
unknowingly
eats in an
act, given
his
perverse
affection
for the
animal,
close to cannibalism.24 The effect
upon
him is
clearly
tumultuous,
and the
implication
unavoidable that he be-
comes
totally unhinged by
the
experience.
The anarchist
becomes,
in his
representation
here,
the lunatic as
Luddite,
and
technology
in the hands of a
madman, considering
the overtones of Zola's
portrait
of the
soulless,
obsessed
Souvarine,
the
practice
of the
black arts. Thus
represented,
the
ideological struggle
of the nine-
teenth
century
becomes but a mask for the
primal
conflict.
Consequently,
the characterization of Souvarine and his instru-
mental role in the mine disaster
expresses
an
implicitly damning
critique
of anarchism as an
ideology. Certainly,
the
fundamentally
romantic nature of anarchism is in no
way appropriate
to Zola's
unrelentingly
realistic
portraits
of human
nature, nor,
on the other
hand,
do its murderous tactics accord with his
ultimately compas-
sionate view of men and their vices. The man who can
coolly
mur-
der and
destroy
and do so as an article of belief is for Zola in his
representation
here both an incarnation of the Old Evil
or,
in its
contemporary expression,
a
psychopath.
The
portrait
of
Souvarine,
coupled
with that of
Pluchart,
the
Communist
organizer,
raises a
generalized critique
of the intel-
lectual instruments of social and
political change:
that of
ideology
as isolated
system.
With
sly wit,
Zola renders Pluchart as a
dandy;
although
Pluchart is not
ineffective,
his
hyperkinetic activity
does
not
yield
a commensurate effect.
By
definition,
Pluchart is an itin-
erant,
and his
contacts,
as made
abundantly
clear in his
meeting
with the Montsou
miners,
are
sparse
and
fleeting.
He works accord-
ing
to
systematic ideological principle
and formulates
strategies
and tactics. A cerebral
man,
he is
something
of a
decadent,
not a
vast
leap
for a French writer of the
Eighties
to make. If this is a
mildly
wicked
joke,
it is a
meaningful
one in the context of this
novel in
particular
and Zola's work in
general,
which
argues
the
compelling power
of the
experience
of the
community
in the af-
fairs of men.
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254 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES
It
is, then, significant
that the
trinity
which confronts the
gods
of
place
contains two
foreigners,
Souvarine and
Etienne; Pluchart,
as
has been mentioned
before,
is an itinerant and therefore a for-
eigner
as well. Rasseneur is the
only
one native to the
community,
which fact in
large part
clears him on the
charge
of
political compro-
mise: he can no
longer
stomach the violence where even the faces
of his
antagonists
are familiar.
Unfortunately,
this
familiarity,
which
keeps
his
humanity
alive,
neutralizes his
political
effectiveness.
Souvarine, however,
aside from
being
a
foreigner,
is also educated
and an
engineer.
like the
company
man
Ngrel,
he is
managerial
class. Isolated from the workers
by
both class and communal dif-
ferences,
as are both
Ngrel
and
Pluchart,
Souvarine sees but does
not
(and
in his case
cannot) experience. Only
the other
foreigner,
Etienne,
literally
and
figuratively
becomes immersed in
being
a
miner in that
place.
It is this
experience,
this
having
been there
that,
at the same time it cannot
change
the
simple
and
necessary
fact of his
foreignness,
anoints him as
revolutionary
hero while
his
foreignness
frees him to act. His decision to
join
Pluchart is
the
only possible
or even
plausible
resolution of what he now
knows. Pluchart and the movement he
represents
are
plausible,
but that is
really
all.
Locale and
characterization,
thus
mythicized, provide
the con-
sistent formal
expression
of the
power
of that
community through
which will
finally emerge
the historic will. The
argument presented
through
this novel is that the
power
of
community
is
transcendent,
that wealth and the means of
producing
it are the
appropriate
patrimony
of the worker
and,
finally,
that all other interests are
foreign,
even those
supportive
of these
principles.
Consequently,
Zola handles the Internationale as
unflinchingly
as he handles
any
other human institution. As the
only apparent
embodiment of historic
truth,
of that truth
expressed through
Zola's forceful vision
here,
it is
only
an
approximation.
Too re-
mote from the soil in which the workers'
experience
is rooted and
out of which their traditions have
grown
in
time,
the
movement,
like
Pluhart's dandyism,
is
finally
an
artifact,
the
only possible
tool at Etienne 's hand.
Etienne,
in his
last,
shattering
vision of
"Des hommes
poussaient,
une arme
noire,
vengeresse, qui ger-
mait lentement dans les
sillons,
grandissant pour
les rcoltes du
sicle
futur,
et dont la
germination
allait faire bientt clater la
terre,"25
transcends both the
community
of miners and the move-
ment which
might
deliver them. He
becomes,
at the end of the
novel,
the fateful man of
history
in a world in which he can no
longer
act alone.
N.R. CIRILLO

University of Illinois, Chicago
Circle
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GERMINAL: MARXISM AS MYTH 255
NOTES
l.The most
comprehensive
view of the various Socialist theoreticians Zola read is
offered
by
Richard Zakarian in his Zola *s Germinal: A Critical
Study of
its
Primary
Sources
(Geneve, Droz).
2.This fact was noted most
influentially,
of
course, by Georg
Lukacs.
3. Dante
Alighieri, "Inferno,"
La commedia
(Firenze,
R.
Bemporad
e
figlio,
Editori:
1921),
I.
4.
Dante,
I.
5.Emile Zola, Germinal (Paris, Gallimard: 1964), p.
1133.
6. Zola, p. 1133.
7.
Zola, p.
1134.
8. Zola, p. 1134.
9. Zola, p. 1134.
lO.Cassell's French
Dictionary,
1903.
11. Dante, XVII, 1.66.
12. Dante, III,
1.80.
13.
Zola, p.
1134.
14.
Zola, p.
1138.
15.Dante,VI,11.94-115.
16. Zola, p. 1141.
1 7. An idea important enough to provide Disraeli with a title for a novel.
18.Rachelle
Rosenberg's
"The
Slaying
of the
Dragon:
An
Archetypal Study
of Zola's
Germinal
(Symposium,
26:
1972)
is an
interesting reading
of the novel on the
Jungian
level, although
it fetches its
dragon
somewhat from afar and leaves Zola bereft of a
more recent and
intelligible literary past.
19.0ne
ought
not
forget,
in this
context,
to what Nana was
hymn.
20. Zola, p. 1507.
21 . From Piu che Vamore.
22.Zola,p.
1585.
23.Attributed to Benedetto Croce.
24. Curiously reminiscent of the revenge motif in the
legend
of Atreus.
25.Zola,p.
1591.
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