The feminist analysis has made a major contribution to social theory, making sociologist aware of issues that were previously ignored. Many aspects of what were considered to be “private life,” associated with male/female relations in household, family, and other social relationships have been transformed. Many parts of society have experienced changes as a result of increased involvement of women in public life. In the 19th century, women were viewed differently than they are now, and those differences play a major part in the roles women played in the literature of their time.
Germinal is a novel about the birth of political ideas and social movement in a society. In Zola’s Germinal, women fit into two different major categories. The maternal role of motherly conduct, and women striving for equality amongst the men, The maternal role is the most important role. The mothers in Germinal are very consistent people, and the constants in the society holding the people together. The most obvious mother role is that of La Maheude.
She is a typical example of many of the traits of common maternal influence, and she gives the readers an idea into an average family of colliers in late nineteenth century France. “It wasn’t something you thought about, a child just came along, naturally. And when it was grown, it brought in some money and generally kept things going. In their house for example, they could have managed if it weren’t for Grandpa, who was getting all stiff and for the fact that out of the whole bunch of them only her eldest daughter and two of her sons were yet old enough to work down the mine. (Page 94)
When the children are young, it is the duty of the mother and her influence during such an easily influenced stage to shape hard-working and trust-worthy breadwinners. As a mother, La Maheude has this important job in providing for her family by creating new sources of income, and by shaping the next generation into society. Many women in Germinal are taken advantage of when it comes to the influence of their male counterparts. Catherine and Chaval for instance have a relationship where the male believes women are lower than them in status.
This aggressive attitude is a clear understanding in the first sexual advances of Chaval to Catherine with his sexual advances. Though Catherine is young, and far from ready for a relationship she is forced into a very intense relationship with Chaval. Her inability to resist such advances from a male shows her true weakness in life. Though the women who work in the mines are supposed to be the representation of the strongest women in the story, in reality Zola has given them fallout in their inability to resist their “superiors” in the males.
At La Mouquette’s they were short of bread too: this was her dinner, and she had insisted on wrapping it in a cloth for him, kissing him passionately as she did so”(Page 266). La Mouquette is a character that sleeps around for enjoyment instead of personal gain. When the colliers are at their worst, she even offers food to her present love interest in Etienne. This gives her a perspective that is unique, besides the history of her family as it differed from the miners. She adds emotion and charity to the novel.
It may not always be recognized, but women have a very important role in society. In the novel Germinal, women are the caretakers of the house and they are the beat in the heart of all the children. They are inspirational women that inspire the children to become something in life. They are degraded in so many ways by the males in the novel; trading sex for food and abusive relationships. Many parts of society have experienced changes as a result of increased involvement of women in public life.