Then, one morning, confident in their solidarity, millions of workers against a few thousand idlers, they would take over power and be the masters. Ah, then indeed truth and justice would awake!
Emile Zola's Germinal
, the 13th book in Les Rougon-Macquart
, tells the story of the young idealist Étienne who is looking for work in an impoverished mining village and decides to try to rouse the oppressed workers to rebellion. A famous work of naturalism and considered to be one of Zola's best novels, it focuses on human relationships struggling against the constraints of working class life and society, and its position on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
is pretty debatable.
As Étienne organises a mass strike, he finds himself enjoying power and knowledge which he feels are above his class, and struggles with his vanity and superiority. Meanwhile, he tries and fails repeatedly to begin a relationship with the haulage girl Catherine, whose family slides deeper and deeper into poverty as she gets roped into a reluctant relationship with the brutish Chaval. As the strike drags on and the workers slowly starve to death, the Company who control the mines watch on and try to recoup their losses with little thought for the lives of the workers. There is a lot of death, but a belief in the goodness of humanity prevails.
Germinal provides examples of the following tropes:
- Apron Matron: Most of the adult female working class, but especially Maheude and widow Désir.
- Badass Bookworm: Deconstructed with Étienne, who doesn't understand most of the political texts he reads but still fancies himself a famous orator.
- Badass Grandpa: Mouque is a straight example, caring more about looking after his horses than getting upset over such trivialities as starvation and drowning. Bonnemort is somewhat of a subversion, as despite his strength and perseverance he eventually loses his mind and strangles Cécile.
- Boobs of Steel: An oddly prominent and complex example, both played straight and deconstructed with strong, fertile Maheude, who is also portrayed as an exhausted source of reproduction.
- Broken Bird: Catherine really has it rough.
- Children Are Innocent: Played straight, subverted, deconstructed, and generally messed with. Étienne is shocked at young Jeanlin's criminality because he thinks children are innocent. Meanwhile, he romantically pursues pre-pubescent Catherine who's resigned to submitting herself in marriage to her rapist, and the kids Lydie and Bébert attempt to engage in a sexual relationship.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Mouquette gets like this to Étienne, although in her dying moments she is pleased to see him with Catherine.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The working class believe that most all of those who control the mines are these, but while many apparent examples turn out to be subversions, the faceless members of the Company certainly fit.
- The Drifter: Étienne and Souvarine.
- Eat the Rich
- Enfant Terrible: Jeanlin, and nearly Lydie.
- The Film of the Book: The film version of Germinal starred Gérard Depardieu.
- Kill the Poor: Exactly who thinks this about whom is up for debate. Étienne, as he becomes more "educated" and more disgusted with the poverty surrounding him, definitely starts to harbour this sentiment.
- Mrs. Robinson: Mme Hennebeau
- Rich in Francs, Poor in Sense: Yes, the starving, impoverished workers are just having a little shout and will soon get it out of their systems and go back to work. Just keep the curtains closed and everything will blow over.
- Spoiled Sweet: Cécile
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Étienne has moments of this, as do many of the rebelling workers.
- Working Class Hero: Étienne, although the extent of his heroism is up for debate. He'll gladly put his life on the line when it matters, though. Most of the working class characters count to some extent.