Zola's Use of the Color Red in Germinal College

As a naturalist, Emile Zola’s use of symbolism is often eschewed in favor of his overall themes and plots. Zola believed in the strictly observational approach to novels and his novels set out to depict the industrialization of sex, violence, alcoholism and exploitation. Germinal was a great source of pride for Zola in his realistic depiction of mining. Yet, throughout the book, the liberal use of color in order to depict mood and scene proliferates until the symbolism becomes as important as the depiction of the interplay between the working class and the mine owners. While the color black is the most prominent color and should be the most prominent color in Germinal, the color red has much more to tell us about the symbolic nature of the novel.

The first instance of red occurs early in the book when the protagonist sees the “red glow of three braziers, burning apparently suspended in mid-air.” (5) Red as a source of heat is beneficial in these early passages as it provides a source of heat for the cold traveler and then becomes “red cooking pot.” (16)

The red soon takes a sinister quality as the light of the brazier sends “blood-red reflections dancing along the filthy woodwork and up on the ceiling, which was stained with...

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