Zola’s Novel ‘The Drinking Den’

Zola’s book ‘the drinking den’ is not just an artistic piece of literature but it is a creative piece of work that portrays its characters in a vivid way. The book’s title that is translated from French means the working class bar. This sends a beforehand meaning thus making the book easy to comprehend. The author sets his work in a place that is so well known to him, this thus makes his work to sound realistic and in touch with its immediate environment.  The book is set in the taverns of Paris; it revolves around the working-class people who are living in the slums of a city. Zola’s work is mainly influenced by contemporary theories of heredity and experimental science and by the behavior of the two families. The two families in the context behave the way they do due to the influence of their environment and the inherent characteristics: mental instability and drunkenness. The book though first written in French its translation to English makes it more interesting to the non French speaking audience. Zola in his ‘The Drinking Den’ tells of Gerviase who is left by her lover and gets to accept a marriage proposal from Coupeau which she thinks is a safe haven at last, but this does not last for long due to the drunkenness of monsieur Coupeau. The book comes out as quite a sensational piece of work. The book addresses the issues of poverty, slums, and drunkenness of the under class. Zola artistically portrays his main character in a very sympathetic manner in her struggle to attain happiness. The translator gives Zola’s article more clarity. Zola comes out as a critic of his working class characters.

It is so clear that Zola had done a research on his audience; this is portrayed by the language he uses which makes the book more realistic to the atmosphere. The language used clearly comes out in the use of slang words and layman phrases.  Zola vividly describes the working class as a lot full of drunkards. Though the book has more in it than meets the eye as to the author, the audience has a different take on the point implied. The audience believes Zola was mainly intending to talk about the evils and dangers of alcoholism. The book receives variety of views on its content ranging from criticism from those who it talks about to appraisal from those who like what it talks about. Zola believes his novel is a true depiction of society and not mere fiction.

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Though the book revolves around Zola’s heroine; Gervaise, it addresses many issues that are facing society through her. Zola uses this book to express the reality that lies in the society. It can be said that the book develops from the author’s heart, this is so because this is an environment that he grew up in hence he interacted, watched and heard this evils in society that he decides to talk about. This connection with the material that he has written about makes his work to have originality and be quite sensational. Zola comes out as aligned to the working class and the underclass alike he therefore criticizes both the working class and the underclass.

Zola starts off his book by showing how desperate his main character is. Gervaise lives in uncertainty, she does not know where the husband slept and this keeps her waiting the whole night for him. The book starts from where it supposedly could have ended in that we get to know of what happens after the other and not what happens before what.    Though Gervaise had thought marriage had brought her peace of mind and happiness it comes out that it brings her more heartache than the happiness she had thought. She gets to be threatened by the thought of unfaithfulness when her husband doesn’t come home that night. Zola‘s plot reflects the real happenings in the society. In Gervaise’s opinion problems in marriage are normal since everyone experiences trouble. Zola uses this story to show the sufferings and unkind treatment that women are put through by their husbands without complaining. Zola portrays Gervaise as troubled when he says that Gervaise had been waiting for her husband the whole night till she got a fever. It is also from this book that the author gives a picture of the differences in society; the working class and the underclass. Zola portrays the poverty in this society by use of very descriptive terms and a lot of symbolism. Zola expresses how poor Gerviase and her husband are by the reference to their possessions as: dingy furnished room with three wicker chairs and a little stained table. Zola goes on to insist on how poor Lantier and Gervaise are by describing the trunk in the corner of the house as being empty but having an old hat buried in dirty clothes and a moth-eaten shawl. All this description shows Zola’s attitude against the underclass. The author also shows the poverty of the society by expressing how women are poorly dressed in dirty dresses. The description of how the lantern of Gervaise has cracked panes is also an aspect of emphasizing the poverty they are in (Emile  2004, 5)

The author also uses his characters to show how the underclass society is invaded with a high rate of crime. Gervaise hears of the cries of the people whom are being murdered, this shows the insecurity level that the people in the underclass face. Zola also describes the people and the animals as the uninterrupted stream of animals and men and carts. The author therefore shows the indecent means of transport that this people have, the means of transport can be supposedly be said to be by carts. From then description of the laborers as ‘the tramping of herd of animals’ also shows the attitude the author has towards them (Emile  2004, 6)

The author brings out the drunkenness in this Parisian society; he describes the men drinking in the early morning hours before going to their places of work. All that these men are focused on is, their drinks and nothing more; nothing brings more meaning to their lives more than the alcohol. Zola describes how the laborers are lowly motivated hence are just dragging themselves to their working place. The author also expresses of the poor mannerisms in this society by the use of the conversation between the bareheaded woman and Gervaise. The conversation takes place from the pavement to window. It also comes out that women are just there for the purpose of serving and defending their husbands. Even with the long wait we still see Gervaise goes on waiting for her husband. The long wait for her husband is all in vain since when he comes back he does not appreciate the sleepless night that Gervaise has spent waiting for him. It soon happens that Lantier abandons Gervaise who is left to vend for herself and her sons.

Gervaise’s struggle becomes so hard on her that she decides to get married to Monsieur Coupeau a roofing engineer. This wedding seems to be a bright turn of events for Gervaise. Gervaise manages to raise capital to start her own laundry shop. The raising of this money is an implication of the effects of non alcoholism. Since Coupeau is not a drunkard this makes it easier for Gervaise to start the business due to the harmony that comes along with non-drunkenness. The getting married of the main character to Coupeau changes her life since she has nothing to worry about due to the stability that comes with the new marriage. The heroine gets to experience love and give love to a man who loves her. The getting of a baby is a sign of commitment from the husband and boosts the bond of the marriage. Unlike the former lover who was arrogant, uncaring and insensitive the reverse is true in this relationship.

Zola uses this marriage to give a comparison of the various relationships in society. The book also reveals the effect of alcohol to marriages and relationships in general. It therefore clearly comes out that alcohol is one of the factors leading to broken marriages. Zola also shows how the society has succumbed to evils related to alcoholism. This is implicated by the book by the laborers’ conduct; some laborers miss going to work just to sit around and drink.   The author vividly uses his artistic piece to show how alcoholism has led to a rise in moral decadence of this society. For instance there are cases of murder and everyone knows about them but little can be done to control the vice. Also the use of alcohol has led to the increase of mental instability and poverty. For instance the women are seen walking in the streets dressed in dirty old clothes; this can be contemplated to be as a result of the drunkenness by their husbands (Emile 2004, 7)

Gervaise’s life takes a different turn when her husband; Coupeau gets an accident while doing a roof in a new hospital. This changes her life from better to worse, the husband gets to be bedridden for a long time thus making him to be unproductive financially. Gervaise thereby strives to keep her family together but this gets offhand due to the financial responsibility that she can not meet. This struggle finally leads to her loosing her laundry business. The marriage thus is at the verge of coming to an end. The struggles lead to social instability in the family hence mental instability on both of the parents. The painful suffering from the accident finally makes Coupeau to turn to alcohol hence becoming an addict.

Things get to turn from worse to worst when the former lover, Lantier makes a come back. This refreshes the memories from the past. The social chaos and the financial strain finally become too much for Gervaise to withstand, she therefore succumbs to alcoholism. This turn of things make Nana to run to Paris and never to return home. This finally marks the breaking of the family and the downhill of events. Both Coupeau and Gervaise becomes fully sucked into alcoholism. Lantier gets to be part of their lives too; now that Coupeau has lost all interest for Gervaise he is quite happy for Lantier’s return. The Lantier return is one of the major reasons why Gervaise takes into the heavy drinking.

Zola clearly shows how alcohol is used to evade life’s realities. This clearly comes out from the way Coupeau turns to alcohol due to his long term painful illness that he feels he can not bear. The illness makes him to totally give up looking for a job, hence since he has lost meaning in life he decides to embrace alcoholism. On the other hand when Gervaise becomes overwhelmed by the turn of events; increasing debts she can not pay, the comeback of Lantier, the financial instability and the mental instability she also gives up and turns to alcohol. It therefore comes out clearly that this working class society has no better way of resolving problems other than escaping reality by the consumption of alcohol.

The author shows his heroine succumb to the struggles in her life, thus portraying the climax of the plot. The picture is meant to show the dangers related to alcoholism and the way liquor tears down society. For instance, it is due to alcoholism that Lantier leaves Gervaise. The happenings in the lives of the characters of this novel clearly portray all the odds of alcoholism: poverty, underdevelopment, financial instability and crime. It can therefore be said that Zola’s novel is not only geared towards the alcoholism of the working class but he also addresses the general evils facing society as a result of alcoholism. It can therefore be concluded that though Zola sympathizes with the workers he sternly judges their behavior and actions. He is thus on no ones side.
 

Reference

Emile, Zola. 2004. The Drinking Den. New York: Penguin Group.

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