The novel called Germinal by Zola was first published in French on March 1885. It created a very significant mark in the french tradition among other great novels like Ladies Delight, Nana, L’ Assommoir, La Bete Humaine and The Belly of Paris. Its original copy was 591 pages but was reduced to 343 pages by Havelock Ellis after it was translated to English in 1894. Some other authors have also translated the novel, and even television productions and film adaptations have gotten some inspiration from the book. In the french calender, Germinal is one of the months where fertility, germination, and new growth takes place (“Time: French Revolutionary Calendar Word Lists | Collins English Word Lists”). Zola in his final words of the novel states that the men would spring out to attempt and their germination would overturn the earth in the next century Zola (Émile et al., 2011). The novel describes a struggle among the miners in northern France whose seeds of hope for a better future were gradually germinating. Zola narrates how powerful the social groups are in their search for aspirations.
The title of the book Germinal is itself a metaphor that shows that there is a form of growth and blooming. In the novel, there is birth and development of relationships, political ideas, and a social movement. Ettiene Lantier a 21 year old young man, who is the central character of the novel, is laid down from his job as a mechanic in a railway station he comes looking for a job in the gold mine. A new friendship is born between Maheu and him. In fact, Maheu the veteran miner not only finds a job for Lantier but also seeks a place for him to stay. In his position at the mine, Lantier is integrated into a team where his skills as a hewer gradually become strong. Moreover, he develops an attraction towards Catherine who is on the same side (Griffiths, 2009). There is growth in Lantier’s experience as a hewer at the mine due to the excellent integration into the team. Teamwork not only promotes your interpersonal skills in coping with conflict but also develops your self-esteem, interdependence and accountability. Teamwork empowers Lantier transforming the naïve man who joined the mine as an influential person. Germinal describes how the worsening working and living conditions catalyzed the rate of poverty and oppression among the minors who finally stopped working at the mines. After joining a group developed by Lantier, they can resist the inferior payments from the mining companies. Lantier can form a resistance group through the relationships that originated from him being an influential person. Zola further describes how social movements can bring about adverse effects.
The name of the mine, Voreux is derived from its Latin form Vorax that means “the one who devours.” therefore, is a beast that devours. Bonnemort seems to be one of those the mine has tried to devour through when he says that he has been pulled three times from the rumbles of the coal mine when he is in a critical condition .The mine has also taken up 50 years Bonnermort’s whole life since he began to work as trammer, then putter and later as a pikeman. Bonnermort also blames the mine that weakened his legs leading to his position as a Carman. Zola uses Bonnermort to describe a further practical beasty act by the mine where his father, three brothers and two uncles died while working in the pit (Griffiths, 2009). The excavations also seem to take up a whole generation to work in the tunnel. Since Bonnermort’s grandfather discovered the shaft, his descendants too including Bonnermort have worked there. The ability of the mines to devour can be identified with the 10,000 employees who are employed to work here. The employers, however, are the beasts in the mine. They pay themselves the profits that should be paid to the workers (Émile et al., 2011). Besides, they restructure the wages to be paid to the workers so that the employees cannot benefit from the contingency funds. The employers also escalate the crisis brought by the strike by bringing in soldiers who kill the workers. Moreover, Belgian workers are brought in to replace the striking workers.
Zola has used Bonnermort as a metaphor. Bonnermort describes a person who has would not give up on anything and takes life less severe. The metaphor has been introduced in the book as a nickname for the 58-year old man who has worked in the Voreux mine for fifty years. Since he began his job at the mine, he has escaped death three times. At one time the mine collapsed on him (Thompson, 2017). When he was rescued, his hair had been burnt and his gizzard had been filled with soil. Another moment, he was saved when his stomach was full of water. He never died despite the two risky accidents. Even if Bonnermort’s legs have weakened, he still has the strength to work for two more years so that he can get a better pension. Besides, he had breathed in too much coal for 50 years yet it had not killed him. Bonnermort and Lantier are in agreement that as long as a person has food, they can live. Bonnermort can be seen to enjoy life despite the oppressing working conditions at the mine.
The coal mine, on the other hand, symbolized a continuous cycle of poverty that the laborers experienced. Neither lack of privacy for the young nor the old because they lived under one roof displayed the poor living conditions of the workers. Bonnermort’s family had worked in the coal mine for 160 years, yet they never became wealthy (Émile et al., 2011). Although he lost some of his family members to the coal mine, he would never leave his job. This shows the desperation that comes along with poverty hence the cycle of poverty persists.
Zola has significantly used metaphor in the germinal novel. The title of the novel, names of people and even names of places are a creative way that Zola has passed his message. Though his book has faced much criticism, it is an example to other writers on how they can apply metaphors in their work.
Zola, Émile, and Raymond N. MacKenzie. Germinal. Hackett Publishing, 2011.
Thompson, Hannah. Naturalism Redressed: Identity and Clothing in the Novels of Emile Zola. Routledge, 2017.
Griffiths, Kate. Emile Zola and the artistry of adaptation. MHRA, 2009.