Germinal Literary Elements


Naturalism, Fiction

Setting and Context

Nineteenth-century France

Narrator and Point of View

First person and third-person omniscient

Tone and Mood

Zola's tone is very scientific and matter of fact in his descriptions of the characters and their actions. It evidently becomes leftist because he presents the strike as a necessity for liberation. The mood is dark - at times hopeful and at times bleak.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Etienne (protagonist); the earth, mine, and Company (antagonists)

Major Conflict

The miners want better pay and working conditions, and the management refuses to accede to their demands.


The miners strike, and the female strikers mutilate the sexually abusive Maigrat after he falls to his death.


The pit is consistently described as wild and dangerous, which alludes to the fact that it eventually swallows up the strikers as a result of Souvarine's sabotage of the entrance.






β€œThe 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.


Etienne grows to care about the strike mostly because he enjoys being at the strike.



Metonymy and Synecdoche

The Company stands for greedy capitalism and the lengths to which capitalism has allowed businessmen to go in order to profit off of the exploitation of disadvantaged, vulnerable populations.


The mine/pit is personified as a cruel and vile creature that is relentless and merciless in eating up the miners.