Germinal Questions and Answers
by Émile Zola

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How does Emile Zola portray Marxism in his novel Germinal?

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Like many intellectuals, Zola sees Marxism as a useful tool for analyzing capitalist society and its defects but less useful as a means of realizing concrete social change. In Germinal, Zola sees Marxism primarily as a crucial galvanic myth, one that inspires revolutionary fervor, motivating the workers to stand together in solidarity to take on their capitalist oppressors.

The use of Marxism as myth by Zola is related to his wider treatment of mythology in the story. An example of mythological symbolism in Germinal is provided by Zola in a particularly striking passage as he describes the coal mine in which the strikers toil:

[The mine] seemed to take on the sinister air of a voracious beast, crouching, ready to pounce and gobble you up.

Zola is consciously constructing a national French epic. However, he knows that the old myths of antiquity are no longer equal to the task; he must create new myths, or, at the very least, incorporate contemporary ones into the fabric of his tale....

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