Germinal is my third book of Zola, and I can say that it already becomes one of my favorites. Germinal is not only a story about the classic fight between workers and company, the poor and the have, it is also about the agony of poor working class. Germinal was written from Étienne Lantier’s (Gervaise’ son in L’Assommoir) point of view. He was an engine man came to a coal mining town Montsou to find a job. From his eyes, Zola took us to watch the sorrows of coal miners who worked hard under poor conditions for very small wages which could hardly support their poor lives. And for generations this condition has never changed; and they seemed to just accept it; to be overpowered by the bourgeoisie and the industrial machines called capitalism.
“No matter how hard we might struggle, we probably wouldn’t change anything. The best is to try and live honestly in the place in which the good God has put us.” ~Maheude, p. 86
Until Étienne—a quite educated young man—appeared from nowhere, mingled with the settlemen, and little by little affected their way of thinking. They soon put him into their lead, with a dream to dethrone the wealth and to regain their freedom and rights. The question was, what was the best method to carry it; anarchism? Long term evolution? Or strikes?
Germinal was a combination of humanity, Darwinism and socialism, packed beautifully with metaphors and romance. This is the third Zola’s I’ve read so far, and compared to Therese Raquin and L’Assommoir (sorry, the reviews are still in Bahasa Indonesia). Germinal was less distressing and less striking. Yes, Zola still described poverty, hunger and moral degradation brutally to the most extremes, yet he still slipped a hope, a bigger hope for a better future in the end. Germinal was only the beginning, the seeds sowing of workers’ battle against the oppression of capitalism. Germinal would show the world that there is a possibility for the weak to fight the strong. It only took time and refinement, and one day the seeds that were now germinating would harvest perfectly and change the earth.
What interested me the most is the metaphors Zola used throughout this story. First of all, the way he described the surroundings in the mine from the eyes of the newcomer Étienne. Zola often used the terms of animal’s digestion in describing the mine pit.
“And the Voureux, at the bottom of its hole, in contractions those of an evil beast, continued to grind away, breathing with a heavier and slower respiration, appearing troubled by its painful digestion of human flesh.”
“The shaft swallowed men by mouthfuls of twenty or thirty, and with so easy a gulp that it seemed not to feel them go down.”
I only think, that it is the way Zola described capitalism which swallowed people and crushed them in poverty just like a monster digested human flesh; and what a beautiful metaphor they are indeed!
Zola also closed the story in a very beautiful and touching way. The rescue drama in the tumbling pit near the end of the story was really breathtaking, but approaching the end it was also warming my heart with love. And the final ending was superb! I love the final quote which brought a new hope for a better future, and look how Zola crafted it with nature’s elements of a new spring for the world, the most beautiful metaphor from this book.
Five stars (obviously) for Germinal, which have just become my new favorite!