Zola's Woman as Unnatural Animal

by Parrat, Noemie Isabelle

Abstract (Summary)
The purpose of this dissertation is to show how certain female characters in Zola question the received notion about the human-animal border and the related distinction between the male and the female. The novels I examine are Madeleine Férat, La Faute de labbé Mouret, La Curée, Nana, and Travail. The renewal of interest in contemporary French philosophy on human-animal relations serves as a framework for a reevaluation of the naturalist author, and my analysis of animal metaphors proposes a refinement of the status of the human in Zola. I show how female characters constantly move between the human and the animal to the point of ending either in an ambiguous human-animal in-between or in a transcendence of such a limit. In order to establish a context for Zolas work, I analyze different aspects of the human-animal discourse in 19th century culture, from the legendary theory of impregnation to androgyny and from sexual inversion to the myth of the femme fatale in both literature and in the arts. Gilles Deleuzes and Félix Guattaris notion of becoming-animal, which inscribes animal instincts within a positive discourse, is my main critical reference. I also refer to Alain Badious ethics of truth, which describes the relation of ethics to subjectivity, in my discussion of the subjective status of humans seen as animals. This dissertation underscores oppositions inherent in the human animal, such as Nature versus society. As the title suggests, I posit an oxymoron in viewing woman as an unnatural animal, as an animal in conflict with its human nature or as a human in conflict with its animal side. The human-animal border is not only more frequently subverted but also more complex in female characters than in their male counterpart in Zolas novels, thus illustrating that the human-animal status of women characters poses a real problem while its male counterpart is less puzzling. Maybe unwittingly, Zolas women profoundly upset 19th century definitions of both humanity and femininity, to a degree that almost contradicts Zolas own avowed positions in this matter.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Dr. Yves Citton; Dr. Philip Watts; Dr. Daniel Russell; Dr. Eric Clarke; Dr. Giuseppina Mecchia

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:06/25/2004

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