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How does Émile Zola establish setting and character in the opening chapter of the novel ‘Thérèse Raquin’

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In the opening paragraph, the author uses a lot of proper nouns for example ‘Rue Guenegaud and the ‘Passage du Pont-Neuf’ which lends a sense of authenticity to the story. The author writes in such detail and it seems as if the writer has been there before which is shown in the quotes ‘thirty paces long and two wide’. Also, the author includes the reader into the story ‘you find’, which makes it seem like a real place that one could visit.

The use of description to describe the location of the setting is quite ominous which is shown in the author’s selection of adjectives ‘yellowish…acrid…damp…black…grime’. It suggests that something bad is going to happen and it seems as though there is a foreboding atmosphere. The window of the shop seems like a place that people wouldn’t want to loiter and even if they do, ‘the shopkeepers look suspiciously at any passer-by’.

Zola also includes a lot of pathetic fallacy in the opening chapter, which all portray a melancholic setting and gives the reader an idea that something unexpected will occur. It also may suggest that the world is leaking emotion and that passion maybe a theme later on in the book. ‘Gloomy holes’, ‘exhale the dank air of cellars’, ‘a whitish light penetrates the dirty panes of glass and lurks miserably about the arcade’, ‘full of whitish rags that took on a mournful appearance’, ‘as though stricken with leprosy and crisscrossed with scars’ ‘mean, soiled shadows’ and ‘the room seemed naked and cold’.

Also, in the opening chapter, Zola uses dull colors such as gray, brown, blue velvet and yellowish worn stones. There are frequent associations with death that are shown in Zola’s use of pathetic fallacy, disease, dirt, decay, shadows and gloom. This suggests the themes later on in the story of deceit, regrets and lies. Although usually a fair summer day would be normally seen as in contrast to a winter day however, Zola describes the summer day in a negative way. He describes a normal day, as there is suspicious light where ‘old men lurk’.

In the opening chapter, Zola presents Therese as a dull, depressed woman like the furniture and the settings. Therese has become extremely subjugated and seems trapped in the shop. The setting is described as a wall is blocking Therese’s way, which could be a metaphor for the obstacle in front of her. She can’t escape her life as it is already destined. Zola describes her as having a strong chin that could symbolize determination and a strong will. The reader finds out that she is married to a sick, weak man and his mother.

He describes her as ‘face was visible, dull white’ which makes her seem bloodless and unhealthy. She is very quiet and seems to keep things to her self. Zola describes Therese as being crushed under the weight of her hair. It may be a metaphor of her life that she is crushed under duty and obligation to obey Mme Raquin since she took her in as a child. The characters seem morally diseased.

Mme Raquin is described as chubby, placid and spoils her son because he is sick. Zola describes Camille as physically tiny and has no character. He doesn’t seem very mature or masculine. The last sentence ‘contemptuous indifference’ suggests they don’t really care that their marriage has no love. In the first chapter, there is no dialogue and it is all detailed descriptions.

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