Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suffering humanity, lessons of history, February 18, 2010
This review is from: Germinal (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
From the very start - with an icy wind blowing across a dark and desolate landscape - the author evokes a place with a story that is graphic and harrowing. Etienne Lantier arrives destitute at a mining pit at Montsou (which loosely means mountain of money) without any prospects but still with the energy of a youth. Stopping to find some warmth from the biting cold, he lingers long enough to find himself descending into the abyss of a coal mine. From that point he becomes entangled with the misfortunes of the Maheu family, who are caught in a vicious cycle of debt, hopelessly slaving away for starvation wages.

The events of the novel take place during the 1860s in France. The industrial revolution has commenced and a raw form of capitalism is the rule of the day - no needless government intrusion into the affairs of private industry. Children of a shockingly young age, about 10 years old, girls as well as boys, are sent down to work in the coal mines. Health and safety standards are set by the company; that is, by the local management, who are totally at the beck and call of a distant Board of Directors, who in turn are beholden to absent shareholders. Whenever an accident occurs, the company has nothing to prevent it from covering up whatever actually occurs. Labor is cheap and plentiful enough that given the choice of cutting the dividend when things get tough, the company will figure out a way to cheat the workers.

At this stage in history, industrial workers have only begun a desperate fight for their rights. The unfortunate part of it is that they have been so beaten down, so accustomed to being treated like cattle, that they tend to act accordingly. Outside of their labors, life is a constant obsession with food, drink, and sex. This habitual instinctual behavior and feeding of addictions not only degrades them but traps them all the more. The horse, Bataille, doomed to spend his life deep within the mine pit, is portrayed as showing about as much compassion and humanity as any of the miners. Etienne, the outsider without attachments, has hopes of galvanizing their better instincts by organizing a strike. But as the strike gains momentum, so does a sense of impending violence and tragedy. The miners have very little chance of getting significant concessions from the company, and though they doggedly struggle, their efforts to stave off starvation are costly. When they are pushed to the brink, horrible things happen.

Although this is a work of fiction, it is a valuable piece of history that contains lessons. It is clear that when there are only the most laissez-faire of laws - basically no government standards or oversight, the desperate and vulnerable get crushed by the rising tide of greed. Extreme conditions trigger extreme reactions, and all hell breaks loose.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 


Review Details

Item

4.6 out of 5 stars (48 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (37)
4 star:
 (8)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
$11.00 $7.86
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: Seattle

Top Reviewer Ranking: 185,241