Germinal by Emile Zola Industrialization Costs
When looking at it on a smaller scale, to keep up with all these changes many people had to suffer for them to work, someone had to do the “dirty” work. In Emile Zola’s book “Germinal” he brings us to the everyday lives of these hard working people , the coal miners in Montsou. They are the lower working class of people that endure many social costs, risking and struggleing their own lives to keep capitalism moving. With fate and hereditary being the main factor in pre determining who works the pits and who collects revenue from the pits, Zola opens us to the “struggle between capital and labor” (Pearson, pg. x) . The reader experiences first hand , the coal miners lives through starvation, oppression, and darkness. Suffering each day to survive we follow Zola’s hero, Etienne Lantier through his journey face to face with cruelty and despair, never giving up on his dream for a better world. The fate and life of the Miners is foreshadowed by the first person Etienne meets, Bonnemort whose name means good death. Bonnemort explains that he got his name because of the multiple times he almost died down in the mine due to the dangerous working conditions in the mine.
He is consistantly coughing and spitting out black phlegm that was collected by his body from all the black coal hes ingested throughout his fifty years down the mine. Even though he should stop working, money is so scarce that he refuses to stop working just so he can increase his retirement money by thirty extra francs yearly . But being so sick that he can no longer be in the coal face, hes instead works outside the pit in the freezing weather, further contributing to his illness , as a carter.
Just by this one characters life we can already see how bad the conditions are for the everyday lives of the miners. Germinal also starts by introducing Le Voreux, the coal mine that mostly every man woman and child in Montsuo are forced to go down, in order to make money. Its represented “like some monstrous and voracious beast crouching there ready to gobble everyone up. ”(Zola, pg 7) it is never satisfied, hungry for human flesh , dark , evil , and mysterious. The working conditions are so bad that Le Voreux is represented as being the hell on earth , and this remains constant throughout the book.
As the workers enter the coal mine barefoot every morning , Zola gives the readers a feeling of disaster and death. The pit being so dark ,the miners only source of light are these little davy lamps, which are subject to firedamp, and will lead to explosions killing miners. The surface of the pit is filled with holes letting cold air and water leak throughout the walls on the half naked workers, threatening the mine to flood or crumble in on itself and crush everyone inside of it. As the workers are lowered five hundred and fifty four meters down the shaft ,the conditions become even worse.
The air is humid being less circulated, with nothing but coal and firedamp entering the miners lungs, leading to disease and sickness. To get to the coal face assigned to each group of workers, they have to squeeze through small passageways , looking out for uneven walls and ceilings, so as to not break their skull or any other bones. When at their coal faces , each person has to twist their bodies into an uncomfortable position so the coal falls beneath them, meanwhile sweating so much they are drenched and covered with black coal as it sticks to their wet bodies.
Then for the workers who have to push the full coal tubs along the haulage roads, they have to bend down to their knees and use all their strength to move the tubs along the uneven road, which leaves many of the people described in the book with deformed looking bodies. Montsou is the town in which the miners of the story live in, specifically Village two hundred and forty. The coal miner families live here together , being exposed to no one but there own. The miners wages are so low they can barely afford basic living essentials, like soap and bread .
This giving them no opportunity of ever saving money, to even attempt to change their standard of living since every sous is used up to pay for food. The Company pays for their cheaply built housing, provides them with coal so they have heating inside these houses, and pays for the minimum amount of medical supplies in order for them to survive. Meanwhile these homes don’t have enough space for children, so everybody sleeps neck to neck and bathes in front of each other . So these basic benefits provided by the company leave the miners with as much comfort as a farm animal.
Then the Bourgeoisie like Mrs. Hennebeau put these animals on display, to entertain their guests from Paris she shows them the poverty stricken houses and deformed children from generations in the mine. Working class families value kids as a means of an economic resource. They often depend on their wages to help put food on the table. Even though we see glimpses of La Maheude’s love of her kids, she often shows anger towards the younger ones for eating and not earning. It becomes a huge compromise when a family has to give up a child for marriage and loose their salary.
For example, La Maheude wasn’t allowing Zacharie to surrender his contribution to the house in order to get married to Philomne. Later in the book when Catherine leaves to live with Chaval , The Maheu’s see their daughter as a traitor to their family for giving her salary to a man who doesn’t need it as much as they do. This need to reproduce for revenue by the workers creates a paradox in their living standard because the more children they have the harder it is to feed them , leading to more poverty. The fate of these workers is shown to be pre determined.
Since the miners live to survive they have no money to save or to invest , and their children will have the same fate. Leaving families like the Maheu’s forever in a trap of village two hundred and forty. Zola shows us this by the differences in the lives of other characters in the book . For example the Gregoires, who inherited shares in the mining company that owns Le Voreux. All their revenue comes from an investment their ancestors made a hundred years earlier. They live in a cozy home, with a maid and a daughter Cecile, and never have to worry about working a day in their lives. Capital is the God he worships, a sacred treasure left buried in the ground to be dug up little by little by the fine fellows who have been digging it up for him and his ancestors for over a hundred years. ”(Pearson, pg xxii) They dont care for the problems the coal miners have to deal with, as long as their shares are growing. Throughout this time Etienne being a new miner in town, sees the unhappy, oppressive, extremely poor lives of the people in Montsou. As he makes friends, and becomes a respected miner amongst his fellows, Etienne shares his ideas of fighting against Capitalism.
He convinces the people of Montsou to create a provident fund in which he collected money in case of a strike, to support the town. He introduced dreams of “ A new society …, as in a dream, in which each citizen would be paid the rate for the job and have his share of the common joy. ” (Zola, pg 171) He filled the minds and hearts of all the miners with his hope to one day take away the power from the Bourgeoisie. The coal miners salary depended on the amount of coal they produced and amount of tubs they filled up.
They were badgered by the managers of the mine to make sure to take time out to construct stable timbering, which held up the walls of the haulage road. If the timbering broke that could mean a rock fall leading to someone dying or getting badly injured. Risking this, Maheu constantly ignored the managers demands for timbering, desperately trying to fill up his tubs to make enough money to feed his family. Later the mining company introduces a new mode of payment where timbering would be paid for separately and each tub of coal would earn the miners less pay.
This was all the miners could handle, so they decide its time to stand up to the company with a strike. Under the inspiration of Etienne Lantier, The miners have no choice at this point but to proceed with collectivism. They took their comradeship from the mine and manifest it by collectively getting together and putting their demands in front of the company. Maheu representing the head of the miners, being one of the most respected and reasonable workers ,protests “We’ve had enough of starving to death , and it seems to us high time that we come to some arrangement, so that at least we can have enough bread to live on each day. (Zola, pg 219) He continued to protest the new mode of payment which was not possible to survive off of, but M. Hennebeau doesn’t help their cause . They were barely surviving on the wages before. La Maheude couldn’t feed the family with the previous wages , she was already sixty francs in debt to Maigret, the local grocer. Which left her with no choice but to go begging from the Gregoires with her two children at her side, in order to try to gain some sympathy from them. That didn’t work since the upper class capitalists only viewed the workers as lazy , drunks, with a lack of hygiene, who are just trying to steal their wealth.
La Maheude as well as the other women in town were so desperate for bread, they had to make agreements with the grocer Maigret, and he would only agree if they let him have their daughters. The miners lived in absolute poverty everyday when they went to work, then as they striked their lives became even worse. The miners refused to go to work unless they got their old wages back. Etienne’s provident fund was being used, but resources were getting low, people started running out of ways to feed their kids. Then as they wouldnt work for the company, it stopped providing coal for the miners homes.
This being mid winter, it was freezing and cold and hunger was growing in the eyes of the miners. “Despite everything they had absolute confidence in the outcome… They had been promised the new dawn of justice, and so they were ready to suffer in the pursuit of universal happiness. ” (Zola, pg 228) Dreams of a better life kept their hearts and bellies warm. They no longer believed in being treated like animals, they were willing to do anything so as not to accept this new mode of payment that would barely let them live. To survive the families of the village started selling their belongings in order to get food.
Trading clothes, furtinure, even the stuffings of their beds , and the workers were only getting more and more anxious for change to happen. For change to happen, they knew the only way was if everyone striked together , collectively they had to make sure the company felt it in their pockets, so the people of surrounding mines stopped showing up to work for the greater cause. With months of children crying out hunger pains and women shivering to their bones, revolutionary action was the only choice left against the company.
The miners met together and started to protest from one pit to another, forcing unobliged workers out of the pit and breaking machinery, as they were determined to make the pits stop working completely. Since the company wouldnt agree to even provide some bread they all started shouting “We want Bread! We want bread! ”(Zola, pg 330) as they head toward the mining company headquarters in Montsuo. From each pit they left their numbers and energy grew , and so did their certainty that they will succeed.
At this point they were looking forward to winning against the company, they were determined to having their cries heard , and they weren’t taking no for an answer, they weren’t stopping until they got revenge. This is where the inner desire of the slave to put an end to the ones who they believe caused them slavery manifests. The generations of repressed workers, dealing with pain, hunger, death just so the bourgeoise can have fresh briole, caused hatred to burn like coal inside of their hearts. First example, as they arrived to M.
Hennebeau’s home protesting for bread the crowd grabbed the Gregoires daughter Cecile as she was getting into the house and they screamed “Long live socialism! Death to the bourgeois! ” (Zola, pg 363) Bonnemort, barely able to move, got the strength to get his hands around her neck, reveling in the thought of killing her, in the thought of putting an end to all his years of submissiveness and poverty. In his heart, she was the cause of his and all the miners pain but she was saved. Later in the book though, when hes even more diabled , Bonnemort ends up killing her with that same inner desire for her death.
Second example when the crowd went after Maigrat, the grocer . He falls off his roof and dies, and the women jump at the chance to abuse and mutilate his corpse like savage beasts. They were thirsting for revenge against this pig who would only give them credit for sexual favors. This relief of anger showed the power of collectivism at its most , individually none of their miners would of performed these acts. After these series of events the life of the miners only gets worse, as they continue to strike.
People in village two hundred forty have no coal to warm up their homes, they sold all their belongings for food, and now they are literally starving to death. The army is brought to Montsuo to keep peace and Belgian workers sent to take the strikers jobs in Le Voreux. In a last attempt of anger and hope the miners of Montsuo revolt against the army for the mine that belongs to their blood and sweat. The workers of village two hundred and forty “acting as one in their common need for vengeance” starting brutally stoning the soldiers (Zola, pg 434) with nothing to lose from their misery filled lives.
The soldiers were ordered to fire and fourteen miners are killed, including Maheu. The strike finishes after the shooting and the miners return to their same horrible working conditions down Le Voreux, no change was made. The water is leaking but the managers don’t pay any attention to it. The mine suffers a collapse and the water floods the deep pit all throughout, capturing Etienne, Catherine, and Chaval side by side, while also killing several other miners.
Another disaster occurs when Zacharie is breaking down the coal walls desperatley trying to get the standed miners out of the pit, but fire damp causes an explosion leaving him in pieces. These chain of events are disasters that the miners of Montsuo risk everyday when they enter Le Voreux and in this chapter Zola really makes us understand the cost of being a miner. While being stuck in the mine we finally see Etiennes inner desire to kill come out of him as it was being referred to quite often as something he struggled with, because it runs in his blood.
At a final battle with his enemy , Etienne cracks Chavals skull open describing his feelings as “his heart racing with joy, the sheer animal joy of a sated appetite. ” (Zola, pg 510) With Chaval gone, Catherine and Etienne finally have the freedom to be together as lovers, but she dies of starvation before the managers got to them. Catherine dies as a victim of her social and environmental conditions. The little pleasure and freedom she takes from her relationship with Etienne killed her , just like the freedom sought out by the striking miners leads them to deaths and even worse living conditions.
Le Voreux took the life out of her and many of the other miners. In the end of the novel the miners have no stronger need than hunger and to survive. Killing most of her family La Maheude wasnt going to let the company kill the rest of them. So the workers of Montsuo return back to the mines. Just like the beginning of the story, they are stuck in the darkness of the monster, in the darkness of Capitalism. They want nothing more than to get out of the darkness to see the light. They were willing to fight , starve, and freeze for the chance that one day, workers would get out of the darkness.
This idea is mirrored through Battles animal revolt in the last chapter as hes galloping through Le Voreux “Where was he heading? Towards some yonder horizon perhaps, towards his vision of the younger days, the mill where he was born on the banks of the Scarpe, and a distant memory of the sun burning up above like a lamp. He wanted to live, and his animal memories were stirring; he longed to breathe the air of the plains once more, and it drove him on, on towards the hole in the ground that would lead out into the light beneath a warm sky.
And all his old docility was swept away by a new spirit of rebellion against a pit that had first taken away his sight and now sought to kill him. ”(Zola, pg 502) Battle kills himself running through the mine, his mind full of visions of the light, he rebelled against the pit by not letting it kill him he was determined to kill himself before it can kill him. The miners in that sense too, were going to kill themselves through starvation and cold , with a vision for a brighter tomorrow. It was better than dying for Capitalism.
Industrialization gave way to dangerous living and working conditions for the coal miners in France. Dealing with the constant risk of death, miners put their blood and sweat into every sous they made to put food on the table. Being lost in the never ending cycle of poverty , fate and tradition keeps these coal miners tied with their ancestors in the darkness of the pit. Struggling to survive with the weather, lack of food, disease and dangers of going to work, all contribute to social costs payed by the workers portrayed in Germinal.
Zola illustrated the variety of ways labour reacts to the inequalities of capital, from their inner desire for revenge and willingness to survive, the miners retaliated with radical behavior. Even though working and living conditions didn’t change for the people of Montsuo, in the end Zola leaves Montsuo with an ambience of positivity. Lantier leaves the town with a persisting hope for the miners that one day they will win their battle against the company. Montsuo lost a lot of lives, but Etienne Lantier changed the world of village two hundred forty, and he left the miners with a willingness to fight.