Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Classics Club’s November Meme: Zola’s Argument in La Bête Humaine

Although I still have one movie review to write and must prepare posts for Book Kaleidoscope, this month’s meme gave me an itch—thanks to The Classics Club…. and Ruth. I always love challenge! And so, I put aside all my works for a while to work on this:

Which argument made by an author (what the author wants you to believe) do you most support or agree with (or disagree with)?  First give the argument, then state why you agree or disagree.

I picked Zola’s La Bête Humaine because it was one of the classics I have read lately which made me reflecting much. If you happened to read my review, I have put my personal analysis on Zola’s argument. However, ever since, I kept arguing with myself about it until now. Although I have not reached any satisfying conclusion, I would try reflecting it once again for this meme.

In La Bête Humaine Zola argued that human nature is molded hereditarily by the nature in which he lives. In this, Zola adopted Darwin’s evolution theory. The protagonist in this story (Jacques) is the descent of an alcoholic couple, whilst one of alcohol’s destructive effects is moral corruption. In Jacques’ case, it develops into beastly murder passion when sexually aroused. Interestingly, although comes from a poor family, Jacques is educated, hard working, and has a polite manner. At first, he can control his passion using his conscience and logical consideration. However, when things get worst, and he gets involved in a cruel event, his beastly passion overcomes him at last.

I keep arguing with myself after finishing this book, is human being really a product of his natural origin? If I was born from alcoholic parents, for instance, and my family live in poverty among working class society, will I grow up as corrupted as my surroundings too? Could I possibly resist this weakness? I think I can, but it would be very tough, and it needs a brave and persistent person to do that. I would have kept the same weakness or bad habit with me, but if I were brave enough, I would strive to be freed of its influence. I could choose to hang around with positive people, I could seek high education, I could do religious activities, and most importantly, if I were surrounded by love: to love and to be loved. Then, I believe I can suppress my weakness. It would still linger within me, but with persistency, I believe I would be able to conquer it.

So, does it mean, I disagree with Zola? No, on the contrary, I agree with him that human nature is inherited from our ancestors, and molded by the civilization in which we were brought up. However, God created us with conscience and free will. From the majority, there could be one or two who could be freed of the corruption.


  1. The evolutionist's argument is something like: man is born good and it is his environment that shapes him. I recognize that Zola supports those ideas. As a Christian, I believe that man is born broken and corruptible. His environment and upbringing (love, encouragement, etc.) will definitely shape him to be a better man, like you said. Of course, if he has to deal with inherited factors, too, that may also affect him in a bad way. It is possible. Then he just has to work harder to steer away from such weaknesses, like alcohol.

    So in a way the environment does change or make us, but the evolutionist believes it is the other way around: man is good but is made bad by his circumstances.


What do you think?