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The vertical perspective in germinal : an analysis of thematic and structural patterns Leaney, Diana June

Abstract

In view of the fact that very little of the total body of Zola scholarship concerning Germinal can be classed as "new" criticism and that until recent years, most studies of the novel have stressed the historical, biographical and sociological issues which are central to the plot, this analysis will attempt to analyze in terms of the vertical perspective the thematic and structural patterns which form the basis of Germinal. Indeed Zola insists in his letters that we read Germinal as a symbolic structure and not just as the mere reproduction of facts or reality in that he claims facts function as a springboard from which his creative imagination takes a leap towards the higher, more complex level of symbolic meaning. Thus, if Zola is creating a work of art, as he insists he is, and if art by definition is the product of the creative imagination, it is then essential to read Germinal as such and , thus to employ one's own imagination in order to examine the complex structure the artist has produced. Clearly, to restrict one's vision of the novel to the surface events and issues is to pass over the more subtle and exciting aspects of the novel which remain hidden in the intricacy of its symbolic structure. Zola's use of symbolism becomes apparent by analyzing the vertical perspective revealed in the thematic and structural patterns around which the plot is woven and hence which are central to the novel as a unified, total work of art. As a definition of vertical perspective, I am using Northrop Frye's concept that in all great works of literature, the artist presents two totally opposite visions of human existence: one inferior and one superior to our own which together form the demonic and divine poles respectively and which thus correspond to the vertical poles of Heaven and Hell in religion. In Germinal, the analysis of thematic patterns will focus on the general theme of sexual relations which is presented in terms of the demonic and divine perspective. The least complex sexual relationships are those which represent the divine pole; for example, the Grégoire and the Maheu marriages. The negative or demonic sexual relationships are divided into three sub-themes: the theme of adultery, the theme of castration and the theme of the virgin which is central to the 'Gothic tradition in literature. The structural patterns center on what Frye calls the moral and anagogic levels of meaning. The first pattern involves the intricate link Frye makes between the four narrative forms of comedy, tragedy, romance and irony, the four seasons which he associates with the forms and the one year time span of Germinal. Together, these three factors chronicle Etienne's progression towards moral maturity. Secondly, the anagogic structure presents in symbolic terms a vision of man's destiny as he struggles to maintain an existence between the demonic and divine poles of his society which correspond to the Heaven and Hell of traditional Christian doctrine. Moreover, on the anagogic level, Germinal embodies the Christian archetypes of the Creation, the Battle of Armageddon and the Apocalypse in terms of the social rebel lion which Zola portrays.

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