Emile Zola's Germinal is the thirteenth novel of a twenty book series called "Les Rougon-Macquart" and certainly the most famous. Germinal, which is also a month of the revolutionary calendar corresponding to the beginning of spring, takes place in the North of France and describes a general strike in a coal mine.
However, Zola's talent does not stand in a dualistic description of the workers against the capitalist "bourgeoisie". Germinal is a work of art because we are described the different nature of the different classes that composed the French society in the late 19th century.
The workers and the ruling class are both described through three families that have an alter ego on the other side of the social spectrum. The "Levaque": the husband is depicted as a brutal and silly worker whose wife is known for her filth. The "Pierron" are seen as ambitious and hypocritical. The husband encourages her wife to have an affair with one of the managers in order to be well considered by the mine's management. The "Maheu" compared to the other families have few defaults. They are courageous, hard workers and smart. With Etienne Lantier, the hero of the novel, they are considered as the positive characters.
The "Grgoire" are a rich couple who believe that they perform good deeds and help the ones in need but are full of presumptions regarding the working class. The "Deneulin": the husband is the "patron" ("boss") of many mines. His character is double. ...