How Is Animal Imagery Used In "Therese Raquin" And "If This Is A Man"?

2007 words - 9 pages

This essay will explore the topic that links both "Therese Raquin" and "If This Is a Man", animal imagery. Although at a first glance both books are different as they cover different time periods, events and the writing style of the authors are different they both use animal imagery throughout their novels. Zola's "Therese Raquin" is the tale of a contagious madness fed by the overwhelming power of sexual urges. Zola confessed to be intrigued by the pathology of a relationship between a man of brute force and a highly-strung woman. It is written in a plain and objective style. Zola describes almost everything in detail and places emphasises the animal side of human beings.Zola is famous for being one of the founders of naturalism. He created a so-called "scientific novel". The new "scientific novel" would be created by placing characters with known inherited characteristics into a carefully defined environment and observing the resulting behaviour. No novelist can actually work like this, of course, since both characters and setting are created in the distinctly unobjective mind of the writer; but Zola's novels do place special stress on the importance of heredity and environment in determining character.Zola used a lot of animal imagery thus there's a lot of attention to body types as he believed by knowing the characteristics of the person you would know the behaviour. The personalities or "temperaments" are very closely linked to body types.Zola pays a lot of attention to description of people. Zola describes Therese as being animalistic. Zola show Therese as a feline, "a long, narrow, sharp nose reached down from the short, low forehead. Her personality/temperament is closely linked to her physical appearance, "body type", she appears to be calm but is in fact highly strung, hence the comparison with cats. She is referred to as a cat continually throughout the book, "Ready to pounce" . Her personality is very secretive, Zola show us she keeps her animal instincts inside, "calm and motionless" , this quotation when compared with, "a mass of energy and a passion dormant within her torpid frame" we can see the energy she hides. Her strength is shown by using animal imagery such as, "feline suppleness". She has been sacrificed for her Aunt and Camille, "newly dug grave" she is described like a caged animal.Camille is shown as, "small, puny and listless in manner" . Zola is almost mocking human nature; the most interesting part of Therese is her animal side. Zola uses irony to convey how little difference there is between humans and animals as the bears are so described similarly to Camille.He would stay there for half an hour, leaning over the pit and watchingThe bears as they ambled heavily around. It amused him to see how these big creatures walked. He stared at them, with his jaw hanging, wide-eyed, like an idiot enjoying the sight of them as they moved. Animal imagery is used to show the differences in Therese and Camille.Throughout the novel Mme Raquin's cat helps us judge the temperament of the characters by the way they act toward it. In the preface Zola says the cat is meant to be Mme Raquin's dead husband. The cat at the beginning of the novel represents Therese's repressed desires and sexuality, " She used to stay slumped in her chair, looking at François as he lay in her arms, so as not to see these paper dolls grimacing around her", Zola enforces Therese's dislike of the others (at the Thursday meeting) by portraying them as being fake, by describing them as paper dolls it shows how they are not showing their real feelings they are merely superficial. Francois represents feelings that cannot be expressed, such as desires, as it is not considered "civilised". By chapter 21 Francois represents their (Therese and Laurent's) repressed fears and horrors. Therese's protection of the cat shows that Therese believes Camille has entered the cat's body. This quotation shows how fear can change a person's temperament, as in Therese, as she is more sympathetic to the cat's plight than Camille's."He was about to give Francois a kick when Therese cried out; don't you hurt him! Her cry affected him in a strange was. An absurd idea came to his head. Camille has entered the cat's body, he thought, I shall have to kill the looks like a human being"We can see from this passage that Laurent believes that the only way to deal with his problem is to get rid of it. This shows how the rules of society never feature in any of Laurent's decisions; society is something that separates us from animals. Zola is showing that society is not what it appears to be. Society and civilisation are supposedly what separates humans from animals, "human animals" act differently in the wild then in the city, " . Earlier in the novel Therese is described with feline characteristics, we can then read this passage as if Therese is the cat. By seeing it this way we can see Therese as protecting herself, this selfishness can also be linked to the murder. Therese wanted Camille killed to satisfy herself it shows that she has no feeling.Zola uses animal imagery to show that the "love" Therese and Laurent share is in fact lust throughout the novel "They had loved each other on a purely animal level". Laurent's personality is also brought out through their affair, he does not think of Camille's feelings, just his own sexual needs, "It had been a long time since he had satisfied his needs; money was short, he had been depriving his flesh and did not want to lose an opportunity to indulge a little." He does not see Therese as more than an item to satisfy himself with. Therese has a half black image of being wild therefore she doesn't recognise the rules of marriage. These traits have not appeared earlier as she has been constricted by rules and law, she has not been in the environment to let this come out in. The river Seine features throughout this novel as a metaphor for animal sexuality, "So life had improved for her. She had the same suppleness of movement, the same calm and indifferent expression: she was still the child brought up in the bed of the invalid. But inside, she lived in an ardent and passionate existence.....she would look defiantly at the river as it rumbled past" , this quotation is taking about how the wilderness unleashes her animal passion/ sexuality, Therese mimics the rivers wildness. Where nature is brought under control, as in Paris, so is Therese.Primo Levi's "If This Is A Man" is a novel describing Levi's experiences during the holocaust. He writes in a scientific fashion as he is a chemist, "we are in fact convinced that no human experience is without meaning or unworthy of analysis, and that fundamental values, even if they are not positive, can be deduced from this particular world which we are describing" However you would not expect him to write in a non adjective fashion after experiencing the horrors of the holocaust, it makes the reader believe that it is too horrific to describe in detail. The animal imagery is used to express how Levi is ashamed/ humiliated to be classified as human, he has lost the dignity that is normally associated with being human. Levi is not only asking the question "what is a man" but also "what does it mean to be an animal", what is it to strip people of being human? In If This Is A Man there is a very basic idea of greed and the animalistic effects that greed brings. Ultimately, this is not a book about the Nazis or Jews or the concentration camps. It is a comment on humanity and suggestion for how men should live. By using animal imagery it shows that humans have been degraded to animals and therefore are no different to them. Zola however, shows that we are no different to animals, we are "human animals" even the rules of society cannot change this.The camps are extremely illogical, "there is no why here" , the strong are killed and good workers don't have to work, "His fame as an exceptional worker spread quite soon, and by the absurd law of the larder, from then on he practically ceased to work" . Logical thought, understanding why something should happen and making sense of reasons separates us from animals, however there is no sense in the camp. The novel portrays the transformation of men when they enter the camp. They are physically as well as psychologically transformed, " Levi shows that by taking away sense, reason and logical thought, the Jews and minorities naturally have ,the Nazi's are making the men no more than animals on a psychological sense and by doing this the men start to think as if they are no more than animals, "One learns quickly enough to wipe out the past and future when one is forced to", like animals the past and future are not important, they just follow their instinct to survive. By treating the Jews as animals they begin to act, almost believe they are animals. Levi uses animal imagery to compare Null Achtzen unfavourably to animals therefore showing that he is no more than one of them."He is Null Achtzen. He is not called anything except that, zero eighteen,.......; as if everyone is aware that only a man is worthy of a name, and that Null Achtzen is no longer a man....When he speaks, he looks around, he gives the impression of being empty inside, ..., like the slough of certain insects which one finds on the bank of swamps.......He has not even the rudimentary astuteness of a draughthorse, which stops pulling a little before it reaches exhaustion: .... He made me think of the sledge-dogs in London's books, who slave until the last breath and then die on the track."This is almost used as a case study to show how the Nazi's want the Jews to be. This man acts like an animal; he does not think of the future or strive for education. Animal imagery is used to show how degrading the physical transformation is; "shaved and sheared" , Levi uses words that are normally associated with sheep therefore symbolising the change from man to animal.`In chapter 11 we are shown a conversation between Levi and an other (higher status) Jew. Even in the direst time Levi Chapter 11 shows the real purpose of men, to be more educated. Levi is using the chapter to show literature civilises and teaches which is why we are more than animals even in horrific conditions.Both novels use animal imagery but for different purposes. Zola uses it to show the temperament and personalities of the characters as well as to show to show an opinion on the existence of love. Levi scarcely uses animal images when he does he uses it to show the transformation that occurs to men when they are treated like animals, he also uses it to show positively the purpose of men and how it is almost impossible to take this away from them, even in the direst of situations.


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