Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Montsou (mon-sew). Company-owned coal mining town in northeastern France, Montsou is the center of all the novel’s actions. The town is actually a congested ghetto of buildings into which the miners and their families are crowded. Montsou becomes a microcosmic symbol for a world into which all workers have been forced. This setting permits Zola to confine his realistic portrayal of workers’ lives to a recognizable location instead of being obliged to depend upon mere rhetoric. Zola’s dividing the world of Montsou into its various components—especially the homes, the company store, and the mine pit itself—shows the complex society in which the miners and their families must live.

Maheu home

Maheu home (mah-HEW). Instead of the loving, domestic picture often presented in literature, the homes in Germinal, most clearly represented by that of the Maheu family, show how the most positive of symbols can be altered. The life presented depicts the economic deprivation and moral depravity created by the totalitarian world in which the miners live. In contrast, the Grégoire home shows the luxury in which the mine owners live, marking the sharp contrast between the owners and the workers, a situation which eventually results in the climactic labor strike to which all earlier actions lead. The reader sees this contrast most clearly when Maheude Maheu takes her small children to beg sustenance from a...

(The entire section is 456 words.)