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Last Updated on May 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

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

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 578


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 southeastern France. Although Aix-en-Provence has many architectural attractions that make Pascal’s residential quarter pale by comparison, Zola concentrates on the single image of the city’s cathedral. The area around Aix, because of its natural beauty and the varied hues of its soil, rocks, and valleys, draws his protagonists most often into the countryside.

*Mount Sainte Victoire

*Mount Sainte Victoire (sant vik-TWAHR). Craggy mountain outcropping jutting up in the distance northeast of Aix-en-Provence that is visible from most parts of the city’s outskirts. Sainte Victoire’s shadows and gleaming rockface were captured on canvas by Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne.

*Cathedral of St. Sauveur

*Cathedral of St. Sauveur (sant sah-vewr). Prominent medieval church in the traditional center of Aix-en-Provence whose splendid stone carved facade and belfries seem to represent an almost physical force drawing both the eyes and social activities of the town’s residents. Zola mentions the church in almost every section of his novel.

*Route de Nice

*Route de Nice (nees). Panoramic roadway leading eastward from Aix-en-Provence through the long valleys separating the rocky chestnut-and pine-forested interior from the Mediterranean coastal range. The road seems to represent the direction toward which Zola’s characters turn their view if they think of the world beyond. It is, however, the road itself, with its shades of light and colors that is depicted, not its travelers’ distant destinations.


*Marseille (mar-SAY). Port city on the Mediterranean. Although not very distant from Aix-en-Provence, this busy urban port seems to belong to another world entirely. On the occasions when Pascal travels there on professional business, there seems to be an interruption in the novel’s rich Provençal imagery, leaving readers with no more than the city’s name to imagine how distinct it is from Aix.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Grant, Elliott M. Émile Zola. New York: Twayne, 1966. Detailed analyses of Zola’s works, as well as of his theories, plans, and methods. Includes a discussion of Doctor Pascal, the final volume of the Rougon-Macquart cycle and a pivotal work in Zola’s oeuvre.

Hemmings, F. W. J. Émile Zola. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1966. Discusses Doctor Pascal as the summation of the Rougon-Macquart cycle. The birth of a male child at the end illustrates the theme of rebirth and rejuvenation. The character of Dr. Pascal is interpreted as incorporating Zola’s own ideas and philosophy of life.

Lanoux, Armand. Zola. Translated by Mary Glasgow. London: Staples Press, 1955. Lively biography that includes discussion of Zola’s works. Characterizes Doctor Pascal as a portrait of Zola in middle life. Like Zola, the hero’s chief concern is his fear of old age.

Nelson, Brian. Zola and the Bourgeoisie: A Study of Themes and Techniques in Les Rougon-Macquart. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Doctor Pascal is included in a discussion of utopia and sex in the bourgeois world. Nelson concludes that the novel illustrates themes of decadence and renewal, and he links Zola’s utopian vision of progress to the value of work.

Wilson, Angus. Émile Zola: An Introductory Study of His Novels. New York: William Morrow, 1952. Informative theoretical background of Zola’s naturalism and materialism. Wilson characterizes Doctor Pascal as one of Zola’s novels of Aix, the scene of his provincial youth.

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