Last Updated on September 6, 2023, 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.
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.