Kamis, 06 September 2012

Étienne Lantier: A Character Study from Germinal

Étienne was the protagonist in this book about mine workers in their struggle under the bourgeoisie’s power. Étienne was the son of Gervaise and Lantier in L’Assommoir, born from the drunkard parents. Without any money he came to the settlement after having thumped his former boss. Étienne, despite of his poverty and unlike any other miners, was quite an educated man. He liked to discuss politics with his comrade and read a lot of books, especially books about socialism. And not only reading, he was thirsty of all the new knowledge and absorbed them all in his leisure time.

Although not described in detail in this book, I choose to imagine Étienne as a quite handsome young man with a polite manner. He had a shyness towards a woman, that when it’s obvious that Catherine (one of the female protagonist) also liked him, Étienne still wordlessly in front of her. In short, Étienne was an outsider. Not only that he came from other town, but he had a manner of self respect and of ‘higher level’. Maybe if his parents did not that poor, he could have been educated and being one of the bourgeoisies. It was he who first felt the need to do something against the unfair treatment towards the mine workers, while the workers themselves had been accustomed to submission and passive obedience.

So with the combination of his concerns and his knowledge, he started to share his ideas about demanding their rights against the bosses. Then suddenly Étienne became a leader (and I imagine that he seemed to fit that position, with his handsome face, educated mind and he learned fast the skill of effectively talking to a crowd). Little leader at first, then the snow ball rolled, and there he was, ready to lead a strike, a big strike of thousands of men and women! Here I then saw his weakness. He became proud of himself, he enjoyed the sense of being a leader, of overpowering his comrades, when everybody listened to what he said, and did what he told them. He overestimated his own capability though, with his only short self-education, he just thrown the theories into practices, never having thoroughly calculated and planned his movement.

I don’t know whether alcoholism was hereditary, but Étienne noticed himself that when his body has contaminated from certain numbers of alcohol, he would lose control, and brutality would came to him out of nowhere. That was why he thumped his former boss, and that’s why he lost his temper during the strike. Was that because he inherited some bad cells from his drunkard parents? I don’t know…. Through the entire story I have been hoping that Étienne won’t fall at the temptation of drinking. Let him always be in his consciousness that had prevented many killing attempt from his comrades.

One thing I like from him was how he loved and treated Catherine. Unlike his comrades, Étienne treated women tenderly, he had a respect for them. Especially with Catherine, although he knew that men often bumped at their women just like that, and although he knew that Catherine had a crush on him and would be submissive enough to him, he never forced her. It might partly because of his shyness, but I prefer to believe that somehow Étienne had a respect to Catherine because he really loved her. Étienne  never blamed Catherine for choosing Chaval, and on the day of the disaster on the pit, Étienne—despite of his decision not to go down again and calling them who did that a coward—decided finally to go working only to protect Catherine from the angry Chaval.

And when the disaster came, Étienne always protected Catherine, covering her with life as best as he could. How sweet those scenes were….

What I love the most of him was that he always found new hope from the bitter falls. People do make mistakes, but at the end it’s how they do out of it that’s important. When he knew that the comrades turned away from him with hatred, he did not give himself long time to regret, he knew what he must do, going from there to renew his knowledge and to make himself useful at other place.

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