Germinal Study Guide

The novel is set during a tumultuous time in French history, when the country was in the throws of short-lived regimes and a series of revolutions. It is also during the height of the Industrial Revolution, which began in France later than it did in neighboring Great Britain - largely because of France’s sparsely populated cities and relatively slow urbanization. Despite multiple revolutions and unstable governments, industrialization picked up quickly by the middle of the nineteenth century, as did the popularity of Marxist doctrine. Though by no means a Marxist, Zola’s plot focus on class struggle is largely Marxist in nature: there is a class struggle vis-a-vis a historical dialectic involving forces of production, capital, and a deeply stratified society. Marxist doctrine and socialist aspirations animate the ideological justifications of the strike and provide Etienne with the ideas necessary to formulate his own approach to freedom, however unsuccessful it turns out to be.