In the novel Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, Zola’s use of naturalism causes Therese and Laurent to fall victim to their own animalistic passion. Zola’s masterful use of naturalism creates the idea that Therese and Laurent are merely animals acting out of instinct, unable to control their emotions or actions. This natural instinct is what lead to Therese’s affair with Laurent; they were drawn together as two wild animals would be, logistics could not stop this act from occurring.
This same natural instinct is what lead to the lovers killing Camille it had to happen regardless of the effects it may entail. This uncontrollable passion turns on them after the murder, an instinctive fear sets in, controlling the lovers and driving them to insanity.
Zola claimed Therese Raquin to be a scientific experiment, this is a hoax. The novel started out with reasonable possibilities, however his romanticism would overcome him in his writing. Zola realizes this and claims naturalism as the cause for the romance, then furthers his naturalism idea by creating a need for violence because the romance needed to continue its natural course.
The result of violence was considered a natural reaction to committing a crime, self inflicted punishment. (Bryfonski 585) For a book to be written as a resultant of a scientific experiment, the experiment needs the ability to be duplicated. There is no experiment to be duplicated in this novel it was just an attempt to create social reform. To Zola the claim of naturalism made his novel more factual, thus holding more weight in the public’s eye for social reform; naturalism did not prove anything though and critics questioned the validity of this “experiment”.
Zola wanted to be called a naturalist and utilized the theme in every way possible, Philo M. Buck states “Zola never ceased to call himself a naturalist. But he learned in his maturity to use his naturalism as a means to an end, and discovered, through it perhaps, a philosophy of life that has less connection with Zola the man of science. To be sure it was impossible for him to turn his back on science, or renounce his faith in his method. But more and more science to him the means to great social ends, and literature more the handmade of science than a department of experimental biology and physiology.
And above all, because of his minute social studies, he acquired a faith in human nature, a belief in its essential soundness, that will make him a defender of the oppressed, but for a reason that has in it nothing of the sentimental love of the lowly or the liberal belief in democracy.” (Buck 282) Oscar Cargill states “It is remarkable in Zola’s notes to discover that he did not want to be “political, philosophical, or moral,” but “purely naturalistic, purely physiological.”(56) Zola wrote Therese Raquin to be a novel showing that humans are predestined by nature. There is also strong physiologic aspects in this novel like effects of murder on the murderer, and the effects an affair has on the two lovers. Zola claims all these effects to be natural and destined. (Cargill 62)
Zola paints a natural scene of Therese and Laurent’s love making one that could be compared to Adam and Eve before their biblical downfall. Therese and Laurent also have a downfall into the depths of insanity after they vile their innocent passion with murder. The passion shared by Therese and Laurent naturally leads them to murder so they continue to enjoy this passion; however once the murder is done their passion turns on them creating hatred between the two they now hate each other with the passion that they once loved each other with. This is the outcome when a crime for passion is committed it is the only natural outcome, the passion now has thoughts of crime tied into it. (Wilson 40-63)
Zola writes at great lengths the struggles Therese and Laurent suffer after the murder, saying how these events they suffer are natural and inevitable. Therese and Laurent’s passion has now fully transformed into a hatred that burns in each of their bodies like the scare on Laurent’s neck burns. The scare symbolizes their passion, it was invisible and painless before it was given to him; but once it becomes real and visible to the world just as Therese and Laurent’s relationship every touch or embrace creates a burning pain. Zola’s obsession with infidelity and the effects of it clearly goes much further than naturalism itself it is clear that he has been affected by this issue. (Hemmings 25-37) Zola’s obsession with infidelity and naturalism leads the reader to believe that he is tied to the subject.
Angus Wilson states “The answer to this sexual despair, the very core of his social pessimism, lies in Zola’s own life. Nothing in Zola’s early days in Paris had helped him to escape from his retrospective view of happiness, and his marriage seems to have proved to be no solution. Alexandrine was a good wife, ambitious, thoughtful for his needs, strong in character,emotionally profound. But she appears to have been only a supplement to his already deep mother-fixation. Had they been able to have children, all this might have been changed, but, unfortunately, this was not to be so…. It is only after his fruitful union with Jeanne Rozerat-a union which caused such misrey to poor Alexandrine-that the picture changes.
Already in LA Debacle, more openly in Le Docteur Pascal, and finally in Paris, the end of the long trilogy of Abbe Fromont’s road to a new faith, a note of hope appears…this was the faith which Jeanne Rozerat gave to Zola. It saved him from morbidity,”(Wilson 49-50) Zola’s marital issues and possible sexual frustration give ample reason for his obsession with naturalism. It was the only excuse for his own suffering that satisfied him, the thought that it was natural and everyone suffered like this as some point was the only thing keeping him sane. To further convince himself of this he would write about it in all of his novels, using it as a plot device and motif. In Therese Raquin naturalism is the reason for every action, from the two lovers to the mother and her natural decay.