Though literature, like all art forms, is subjective, people never hesitate to critique it as if their word were final. Book critics usually prefer novels which cleverly encompass all aspects of literature. This includes plot and style, but also an array of other aspects. However, if one were to prioritize, would style and language trump plot? It all depends on themes. For example, Emile Zola, while writing Therese Raquin which focuses on human behavior in a psychological novel, might put emphasis on plot to get his point across.
But if his language is faulty, his style ambiguous; then will the reader truly understand Zola’s intentions? Style in a novel is the author’s technique, such as his diction or syntax. However, because the version of the book being investigated is a translation, we mustn’t look too far into diction. But style also sets the tone of the chapter, paragraph, and the entire novel. Therese Raquin may have a killer plot, but can the reader really understand the novel if they cannot identify the tone?
From the very beginning, we can identify the tone as bleak and depressive, when Zola is describing Rue Du Pont Neuf at the very first page, and writes “This arcade is some thirty paces long and no more than two wide; it is paved with yellowish flagstones, worn, uneven, permanently exuding an acrid-smelling damp, and is covered by a right-angled glass roof black with grime. ” One can immediately identify the morbid tone in this passage. If Zola were to write “the arcade is long and narrow, with flagstones and a rather dirty glass roof” no type of tone could be interpreted, or if it could, it would be one far from that of which Zola intended.
Similarly, toward the end of the book on page 166, when Madame Raquin, paralysed and weak, attempts to denounce Laurent and Therese’s actions to the guests, Zola described the lovers’ reaction: “Therese could not speak; she, like Laurent, had followed the paralytic woman’s extreme efforts and was now staring at her hand, chalk white in the harsh lamplight, an avenging hand that was about to speak. The two murderers waited, holding their breath. ” The description of the hand and words like “harsh” and “avenging” describe this fearful tone of the situation.
To understand Therese’s emotions at that time, the tone proves to be very important. Authors like Zola write in the way that they do for very specific reasons. Maybe plot is more important simply because modern readers don’t care for style: They want what happens here and now, which satisfies them enough. But for the more exploratory reader, style is to be valued just as much, as they will be looking to fully understand the text and come out of it with their own interpretation of said work. Style in this particular novel conveys the tone to the reader, which is essential to understanding Zola’s criticism of human nature.
The plot in Therese Raquin is of Therese’s monotonous and suffocating life, which gets flipped and turned upside down by the arrival of Laurent. The plot of the story is a very thin veil for Zola’s intentions. However, this plot fits very specifically to his intentions. This is of course to be expected, but when judging the importance of plot, we must decide how important the plot of this book is to get Zola’s message across. As stated in the preface to the second edition, Zola states that “In Therese Raquin my aim has been to study temperaments, not characters.
That is the whole point of the book. I have chosen people completely dominated by their nerves and blood, without free will, drawn into each other action of their lives by the inexorable laws of their physical nature. ” Zola intended to focus on the four humors, and associating them to the four main characters. He states that his objective “has been first and foremost a scientific one. ” His study of these four characters involves setting them problems, as if they were animals. Therefore, based on Zola’s own words, one must come to the conclusion that the plot is as important as anything.
He claims nothing that Therese and Laurent did was of their own free will. In fact, they were needs, consequences or a simple organic disorder. As Zola puts it, “Therese and Laurent are human animals, nothing more. ” This plot was written very intently with the purpose of communicating Zola’s “experiment” to the world. Anything else he writes is an extra, as the plot is the main focal point in this novel, as it is a study of the four temperaments. When considering Therese Raquin, one must come to the conclusion that without this exact plot, Zola’s study does not arrive at the same result.
The plot is absolutely essential, but that is because his book is more than just a novel. Modern literature is more focused on providing entertainment for the reader. This novel, and many like it, is a study into human nature, which uses this plot as a means of communicating it. This does not completely disregard any contribution from the style. It is still a very important factor in the novel, and all literary works. Despite this, based on Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin, the conclusion is that plot is more valued than style.
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