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The portrayal of women

Women in literature during the Industrial Revolution may boldly be compared with the role of men in society, especially in the presence of labor and poverty. Germinal portrays women as a necessity of labor, rather than the typical image wherein women belong to the household. However, Zola goes beyond the bounds of feminine representation. In the novel, women can be physically competent as that of their male counterparts, achieving a higher tolerance for fatigue and better emotional control.

Continually present in the novel’s duration, Zola provides detailed imagery, not only of the surrounding and dismal resonance of the mine but also the character sketches which provide the understanding of their behavior and characteristics. Zola represents the image of women between two specific classifications. First, he portrays the wives of Le Voreux with typical images – women as wives who dedicate themselves to their family and home.

The residents of Montsou classify marriage as a hindrance from earning their wage from the mines and once a boy or girl becomes engaged, their opportunities to earn from the mines are lessened. “It was of no consequence; they married afterwards, only the mothers were angry when their lads began too soon, for a lad who married no longer brought anything into the family. ” [1] The first classification of women is represented by Maheude, the wife of the mine boss. She strives to feed the family for the day through any means necessary.

She is the head of the household yet her will is controlled by her husband; a typical example of the role of women in the society. The second classification lies on the example portrayed by Catherine. She capitalizes on being a tomboy yet her girlish characters do not escape the eye of some men, including the main character Etienne. These young women already work and level themselves in terms of physical strength and abilities as that of the men. They present themselves as equally competent and courageous, inside and outside the workplace.

Yet, it remains that gender diversification inside Le Voreux is of little importance since all people inside it are viewed as ‘mindless’ workers instead of human beings. This is typified through Zola’s metaphors where workers experience the same treatment and living conditions as that of animals. Animals as exemplars/parallels with the human condition. Zola presents metaphors that compare the nature and essence of work of men and women inside the mines as that of animals.

Indeed, this comparison suits the mine work and how the workers are treated: they receive minimum wage and suffer from unsuitable working conditions. Zola’s metaphors symbolize limited intelligence and independence on the part of the workers as exemplified on the following passages: “The embarkation continued, above and below, a confused packing of cattle. ” [1] “There were horses there, at rest, who turned their heads, with their large infantine eyes, then went back to their hay, without haste, like fat well-kept workers, loved by everybody.

” [2] If labor is a necessity, the poor man is left with nothing but his essence – his ability to work. The rich man on the other hand, has the capability and means to buy such labor at a low price and get high returns without having to spend large amounts, thus ensuring growth of wealth for the rich and continual poverty for the poor. Thus, freedom is bought, as well as the worker’s independence; they have nothing to exchange but their skill. The comparison of the workers with animals lies with their treatment as they are obliged to serve the wealthy owners without any question.

In addition, the nature of their work exhausts them physically and mentally, leaving no room to think and the work becomes a dull routine that they have to put up everyday. Like an animal, these workers remain placid and content as they are constantly ‘fed’ with their wages in order to work. But once an animal is abused and suffers injustices, they respond instinctively and finally rise up against their oppressors. Reference List 1. Zola, E. Germinal. Trans Stanley and Eleanor Hochman. United States: Signet Classics: 1981. (p. 125) 2. Zola, E. Germinal. Trans Stanley and Eleanor Hochman. United States: Signet Classics: 2004. (p. 163)

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