Germinal Imagery

The Beast

The beast was wounded in the belly; we should see if it was still alive at night. And he had left his mark; the frightened world would know that the beast had not died a natural death. (421)

There is this sense towards the end of the novel that there was a sabotage of sorts, a deliberate attempt to attack the animal in the ground that was a cause of misery for the settlement. Zola's colorful but dark description of the pit's demise points to a broader reality of rebirth. In order to see germination, the cycle must begin anew. The pit will be destroyed, but in its place there will arise a new one.

Jeanlin's Nature Revealed

A find powder drowned him [Jeanlin] in such a flood of soot that the young man would never have recognized him if the child had not lifted his ape-like face, with the protruding ears and small greenish eyes. (480)

Etienne is leaving and sees that "a creature is seated on the earth" (480), who turns out to be Jeanlin, again employed at the pit to clean large pieces of coal. The "flood of soot" that covers Jeanlin shows how deeply trapped even children are within the abyss of capitalist exploitation. At the same time, Jeanlin's predicament is a very poignant ending to his rampage. In some ways what was outside - his innocence and childhood - has disappeared. What has replaced it, symbolically in the form of soot, is what was inside him all along: darkness and filth.

Fire and Ice

Late arrivals were still coming up, a flood of heads drowned in shadow, and stretching as far as the neighboring copses. A rumbling arose from them, like that of a storm, in this motionless and frozen forest. (257)

The strikers meet at the rendezvous point that Etienne had given them. They are full of fire, in stark contrast to the blistering cold of the winter. They are uncompromising in their faith, fervency, and determination to fight for justice just as the winter is unflinching in constantly bombarding them with its punishing winds.


And in their rage at not finding a traitor's face to strike, they attacked things. A rankling abscess was bursting within them, a poisoned boil of slow growth. Years and years of hunger tortured them with a thirst for massacre and destruction. (307)

The anger of the strikers can no longer be contained. Whether something deserves to be destroyed or pillaged, the strikers do not care. They seek not revenge or retribution as much as an outlet for their fury. There is simply a great desire to break and cause chaos. The oppressed have broken out of their routines and strictly defined roles to grab freedom, but in doing so do not necessarily know how to use it. They break out of chains only to confront their own ignorance.