L'Assommoir

Narrative, Walls, and Society in Barnaby Rudge (Dickens) and L'Assommoir (Zola) College

One common theme in literature is power, and many works explore how different people use or abuse it in different ways. Often, settings emerge as illustrations of power and its abuse; they can act socioeconomic critiques and as metaphors for the state’s failure to use its space effectively. In both Barnaby Rudgeby Charles Dickens as well as in L’Assomoirby Emile Zola, the practice of close reading reveals that the authors’ depictions of space constitutes a political critique that relies on the characters’ and narrators’ knowledge of the space and what is happening there. By offering close readings of specific passages in both of these works, this essay shows that a depiction and consideration of space is rooted in the narrator’s relationship with the characters in the novel. The result of this consideration of space and of characters is an opportunity for incisive social critique.

In Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, one passage in particular exemplifies the power of a place to illustrate socioeconomic critiques. The depiction of a prison riot illustrates the power of a space and its role in both consciousness as well as in a socioeconomic critique. The entire novel deals with the prison riots of 1880, but this passage in...

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