Doctor Pascal Analysis
by Émile Zola

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Doctor Pascal Analysis

Doctor Pascal by Émile Zola is novel that follows the personal lives of Dr. Pascal and his household as the doctor works on his hereditary research and provides low-cost or free healthcare to poor patients in his area. There are several tensions in the novel that are addressed throughout the story line.

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Dr. Pascal is a bit of a black sheep of the family. He does not seek fame or riches but instead wishes to reduce suffering among those who can not afford to seek out expensive health care. Dr. Pascal's mother disapproves of her son's direction in life, as she wishes that he would use his profession to become rich rather than to aid those who don't have the financial resources to access health care.

There is certainly a lack of appreciation for Dr. Pascal's determination to help people, and this lack of appreciation can be seen as as indicative of the larger materialistic society in which he lives, which values individual success and wealth over solidarity and communal care.

Dr. Pascal also faces disapproval from his family because he is not religious. His housekeeper, Martine, and his niece, Clotilde (who was raised by Martine) are determined to coerce Dr. Pascal into becoming a Christian and attending church services. Eventually, however, Clotilde comes to understand to Dr. Pascal's point of view, mostly due to the budding romance between them.

For the most part, the people in his life see Dr. Pascal's scientific research as an alarming activity that goes against religious morality. At several different points in the novel, the other members of the house attempt to burn or otherwise destroy Dr. Pascal's research files in an attempt to stop him from engaging in research that they find to be offensive to their religious beliefs. Once again, there is a connection to the larger society in this tension over the subject of religion in the household. Particularly in the nineteenth century, Christian doctrine railed against the advances in scientific research, especially any research that might undermine the creation-based explanation of human existence.

Overall, throughout the book, these tensions exist between a coercive, homogenized society and a determined individual.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Soleiade (sal-ayd). Aix-en-Provence residence of Doctor Pascal, located about fifteen minutes by foot from the Cathedral of St. Sauveur, and the center of the town’s diverse social life. The novel’s descriptions of the home are filled with the warm contrasts between shadows and light, stone and vegetation, so characteristic of the private lives of its occupants. More important than the interior, usually closed off from the sun, is Soleiade’s terraces and balconies overlooking the garden, where Pascal and his niece Clotilde spend a good part of their time.


*Aix-Plassans (aks-plah-SANZ). Quarter of Aix-en-Provence in which Pascal lives; it looks out on the beginnings of the countryside, which offers Pascal and Clotilde a refuge from daily social contacts during their frequent strolls. The soft valley of Plassans seems timeless, shaded by century-old cypress trees. As the region opens onto the countryside, the yellowness of its dusty soil recalls again the contrasts between shade and light. As for Aix-Plassans itself, Émile Zola probably chose this quarter because of his own father’s association with it, as an architect and builder of a prominent town fountain.

*La Viorne

*La Viorne (vjorn). Stream running through Aix-Plassans that is visible from the outer terrace of Doctor Pascal’s residence. Its shaded banks seem to draw the viewer’s attention away from the stone architecture and fountains of the city’s squares and toward one of Zola’s favorite symbols of the Provençal countryside, the immense horizon arching over the rocky sides of the many valleys, none famous enough to be known to the outsider, but bearing names familiar to the town’s inhabitants.


*Aix-en-Provence (AK-sahn-proh-vahns). Old city north of Marseilles in...

(The entire section is 1,180 words.)