Kezia's Reviews > The Belly of Paris

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola
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May 30, 15

bookshelves: literature, politics, animal-rights, own

Pauvre Florent. A falsely accused escapee from French Guiana arrives home a much changed man - to a much changed Paris. It's Zola's third book and easy to see how this laid the foundation for his future works of art. While this book in no way compares to Nana, L'Assomoir, Germinal, or his other masterpieces, it is loaded with wonderful symbolism related to food and justice. Les Halles itself represents the gastronomic center of Europe, therefore the world. A character's description of local residents as either "fat" (bourgeois, complacent) or "thin" (needy, revolutionary) again ties the theme together. Zola's descriptions of the lavish foods produced and sold in the neighborhood call to mind the aristocracy's gluttony and greed during the Second Empire. (Zola himself was quite a big eater, apparently.)

Instead of fat versus thin, Zola could have just as easily divided his characters into those who exploit animals for profit, and those who don't. (Florent actually swoons when he witnesses pigeons being slaughtered for the poultry dealer.) Zola's butchers, fishwives, and butter/cheese merchants are universally unsympathetic. Those who make their livings in fruits, vegetables, or flowers are idealized - such as Mme Francois who rescues Florent in the opening pages. It's again quite symbolic that characters who will so thoughtlessly kill and gut a fish, or make sausages out of animal blood, would think little of killing, gutting, and making sausage of their fellow man.

I just encountered this quote from Zola, which I find interesting in the context of this analysis: “The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous.”

For all Zola's beliefs in justice, and his progressive politics, it's important to keep in mind he is a "naturalist"/realist. Therefore there's little justice in his novels, and Ventre de Paris is no exception. Pauvre Florent.
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