Zola Readalong | April 2021 discussion

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Germinal (Sep 2020) > Germinal - Parts III and IV (spoilers!)

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Pauline B (Dancing Lawn) (dancing-lawn) | 37 comments Mod
This is a discussion thread for Parts III and IV of Germinal. Please comment your thoughts here!

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Iza Brekilien (izabrekilien) | 13 comments I've just finished part III and what struck me the most was the part where they all begin to discuss politics and begin to dream of a new life. Reading about their hopes tore my insides - as I know it won't probably happen to them !
I visited a French town called "La Machine" (no need for translating, I guess !) in a mining environment. The landscape that was so green and lovely a few kilometers before arriving there quickly turned into slag heaps (terrils), everything dark, no trees, not much greenery, even if the mine had been closed years ago, in 1974. It was exploited by the Schneider company, whose family owned a castle in a beautiful park in Apremont sur Allier : it still attracts lots of tourists because it's located in one of France's most beautiful villages. A striking living difference !

Lana | 10 comments It's interesting to see how Maheude sees her children as means to support her family, and as soon as they're unable to provide, they are considered outcasts from the family. It shows how hardened these people were by hunger and physical work.
It was sad to see Catherine in a situation where Chaval's basically forcing her to do whatever he wanted. Still, her mother blames her for taking a lover and leaving her family. Women had little or no choice at all if men decided to take them for their lovers, yet they were the ones who were blamed for that.
As the discontent of the miners grows, as well as their hunger, Zola decides to shift his focus to Hennebeau's discomfort with his life and marriage. Yet again we see how detached the bourgeoisie is from the worker's sufferings. He envies them for their freedom of sexual expression without taking into consideration the consequences of these sexual acts. He'd rather be starving if a woman gave him these kind of pleasures. I guess Zola wanted to show that people are people in whatever situation they find themselves in. The grass is always greener on the other side.
And that vile creature Jeanlin! Such cruelty without any sign of compassion! I wonder what profile he fits in. Was he born this way, was it because his mother didn't love him enough, nature or nurture, or both?! Why did he turn this way, when none of his other siblings show the same traits? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

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Iza Brekilien (izabrekilien) | 13 comments It's funny how we see all this as XXIst century creatures from the western world. I recently heard about countries from the third world (or so they were called not so long ago) where children were considered as assets for the older members of the family. Not much difference from that story, eh ?
Worrying about feeding the whole family, keeping the house clean, worrying about an older member with sore legs and a younger member with sore legs, it's a lot of weight on The Maheude, isn't it ?
And Etienne is more educated, he reads a lot, but where does it leads him ? He longs for more power, he wants to show off to the other miners and progress in life, not just for others, but for him, so what's better in him ? Oh well, find me a good character in there, lol !
Jeanlin is not a likeable character, but given the way he was born and raised, that he should keep a place where he can be happy and fed while being hard on others, I wouldn't exactly blame him for this, he doesn't know how else to live, does he ? I don't know why his other siblings don't act like him, but the only ones that seem different are the girls, Alzire (crippled) and Catherine (abused while still a child ?), so girls. Who knows how the boys will turn out ?

Lana | 10 comments Yes, that's exactly my point, how interesting it is to read about this from the perspective of the 21st century and how easy it is to forget how people used to live. Maybe I didn't express myself the way I wanted to. I didn't mean to say that I blame these people for what they were doing and how they were living, I simply meant how different and strange it may seem to us from today's perspective.
These things were happening in the 20th century in my country too. My grandmother was the oldest of 10 children (13 actually, but 3 of them died very young). She only went to school for 4 years, then her father told her she had to stay at home and take care of the household. Other kids had to work in the fields and contribute to the family (the boys managed to finish high school while working every day).
I remember when my great grandmother was still alive and we were having some kind of celebration. My brother was 3 years old, playing and running around. My mom was sitting on a chair, and she said to my mother: "How can you sit while your boy is standing up? You should get up, let him sit in a chair and serve him. You're lazy." We weren't shocked, it was just funny to us kids because it was such an outdated way of thinking. I remember us laughing out loud.
I didn't think Jeanlin was vile because he was stealing food and not sharing. I can't say I wouldn't do the same if I were hungry as these people were. Nowadays, we can't even grasp what it was like not to eat for days. I can't even blame him for putting himself as a leader of his group. It's the law of the nature - the strongest one will get to eat the best food. He's simply fighting for survival. And others probably did the same, maybe just in different ways. What I mean when I say he's vile is that he's stealing for the simple pleasure of stealing, he's torturing animals just for pleasure, he's doing things to his'friends' that go beyond being 'the boss' of his group. There is a sentence in the book that says he stole some shoe paste (and something else that I don't remember) even though he didn't really need it. He just did it for the sake of stealing it. I guess what I meant to say was that he's different from others because he did many awful things just for the sake of doing them,for simple pleasure. Other people did certain things that we may consider awful today, but it was normal then and they had to survive.

Pauline B (Dancing Lawn) (dancing-lawn) | 37 comments Mod
I feel the same way about Jeanlin. It's difficult to blame him due to the circumstances he lives in and was brought up (I mean his family doesn't really seem to care that much about the fact that he has been disappearing for weeks and not coming home), but I agree with Lana that there is still a certain viciousness in his character, but I don't know where it would have come from. Though I guess his big brother is not setting the best example either.

It was really difficult to read the last scene from part 4 when the starved miners gather and get angrier and start seeing the communist utopia and violent overthrow of the state as the only remaining option. It's so heart-wrenching but very understandable at the same time. They are all in such a dire situation and they just want to be on top for once.
The fact that they decided to act against "the traitors" that are not on strike made me think a lot. It's part of human's disgusting nature to turn against each other instead of against the system that brought about the situation. I'm afraid this will go horribly wrong.

I agree Isa, Étienne is really enjoying himself with the power he is given. One passage of the book was particularly interesting, in which he reads all these pamphlets and communist and anarchist manifestos and struggles to really understand the political and philosophical concepts. He doesn't seem to grasp what consequences could arise and that is not only because he doesn't want to, circling back to the lack of education in the mining community and how it gives a huge advantage to the "masters".

Laurane Macquart (petitcailloubleu) | 15 comments Aren't you guys/gals loving every chapter though? Each one is impactful in a different way..
The part with the diner of Hennebeau and the Gregoires and the the discussion with the miners struck me.. That Maheu started talking, out of pure desperation and anger. And Hennebeau being disconnected although I do believe his heart is in the right place. He sees it as 'we are already doing things' which at the time was a good thing, not the bare minimum we see it as.
I also wonder at why Rasseneur is actively against the strike. I can't be only his earlier experience, he is also just jealous of Etienne. I think thats part of what makes the book good. The characters have ideals but are also so human.

The Maheu kids deserve a whole separate discussion I believe... Zachary and how he treats his finances and his wife. Catherine .. that part when she goes back home and it's described how she never expected anything from life other than 'violence behind the terri, a kid at 16, misery at home if her lover marries her'. Damn! At least Jeanlin is trying to make something of his life. The cruel kid.

Totally agree with the point you are making about food Lana. How can we understand with our bellies full, and no missing meals in view. Who's joing me for a week long without food to understand the characters more ;)

Laura | 4 comments It’s so sad reading this and knowing that things wouldn’t change in any significant way for these workers for a long time to come and that in some parts of the world people are still suffering under the somilar conditions and having to make the same sort of brutal choices.

I also found Jeanlin interesting! I see him as cruel and sadistic. Sadly his callous and selfish way of living has left him in better condition than those characters who are more caring and cooperative. Certainly the harsh environment in which he lives has brought out these traits in him.

The scene that stood out in my mind was when the Maheuds were huddled in one empty room, having sold most of their furniture, with only the light of a dying candle providing any warmth, waiting to see if their mother would return with food and Étienne finally returning with only a few potatoes. My family lost power after a big storm the Christmas before last and the house was unbearably cold, there was just no escaping it. I can’t imaging living under these conditions with no fire and few clothes and blanket.

I understood Rasseneur to be skeptical of Etienne’s radicalization. I think that he is less idealistic and believe that change can only happen slowly. It was interesting to shift perspective to Hannebeau who isn’t completely unlikable. It goes to show how easy it is to be complicit in the suffering of other as the characters in power keep saying “my hands are tied”. They tell themselves “I was just doing my job, following orders.”.

You’ve all mentioned education and Étienne’s taste for reading. I think this is really interesting to think about. It’s hard to imagine a world where not everyone is literate. It makes me think about just how invisible these miners would have been to so many in society.

I agree- that last scene was haunting.

Scott Baird (Gunpowder Fiction and Plot) | 4 comments I think the character of Jeanlin is clearly a product of his circumstances. I think comparing him to the shop keepers and mining company is interesting, I think Zola is saying they're all practicing theift, and that they're all unnecessarily mean, I don't think he wants you to say, he's only robbing people because he's hungry.

I liked how Etienne was feeling guilty about his knowledge. There's so much in this very brief bit of the book, the limitations on his advancement is not education or knowledge but societal position or class, yet he's been afforded the chance to better himself and get ahead by other people. It hints at how Unions can be just as problematic as businesses, and how seductive money or advancement can be.

The treatment of girls in the novel is brutal, and I mean girls, as in children. Lydie and Catherine are both basically bullied and beaten by Jeanlin or Chavel and when they see their families, they're bullied and mistreated some more as motivation not to do what their abuser wants.

I'm absolutely loving this, it's a reread and I know that the next 3 parts are better than the first 4; but as it is, it's already better second time around and it was already one of my all time favourites.

Pauline B (Dancing Lawn) (dancing-lawn) | 37 comments Mod
@Scott, I'm so glad the re-read turns out to be even better than the first read!
I agree re: the treatment of girls/young women. None of them have any sort of role model that motivates them to fight back and stand against their abusers. How they all take it without fliching, Stockholm Syndrome style, because they don't feel like it's worth fighting for themselves is so heart-wrenching.

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