The beast within by Émile Zola
The novel is dark and brutal with plenty of fights, sex and more murders than in any modern book. The story begins with a brutal scene between a married couple. Then, it just escalates into a crescendo of violence. ”The beast within” is such a contrast to the prudent writing of Victorian England.
Zola is examining the cause of violence. Jeaolusy, hatred and egoism are common factors, as well as the more unusually emphasized concept of atavism. Not one person is good. Every single one is very flawed and selfish, perhaps with the exception of the Cabuche, becoming a kind of martyr, carrying the burden of the defects of man. Zola doesn't portray women as particularly good creatures, but as guilty and evil as men, only that the conventions have made them think they need a man to do the deed, with Flore as an interesting exception. Of course, being a strong individual and able to make decisions and execute them, good or bad, Flore had to be very physically strong and big boned – described as manly, because a woman apparently can't be all that and still be feminine. On the other hand, Severine, a more timid woman - easier to like and identify with - made not so different decisions, which prove that Zola found women, regardless of their more or less modest or timid personality, as good or bad as men.
Despite all their flaws, the characters are easy to care for because they are portrayed as very human, perhaps more so than we might apprehend. They were not good nor exceptionally bad, just emotional and not very controlled, which, of course, brought disaster. Other factors are the occasion and surroundings.
The concept of good and evil is very much a matter of circumstances, but all characters have the ability to be both. Everything exists in man. Every human being has a violent nature. What makes certain people commit murder is just due to circumstances. Another theme is the repercussions of succumbing to one's instincts. ”The beast within” is a refreshing, experimental analyses of violence and its core, origin and consequences. The railroad with its passing, unknowing, uncaring trains is a colorful contrast to the emotions living inside the characters, and the modern ways contribute to hide and repress the violent human nature, the beast within, making them appear civilized. As well as today. Civilization, with the conception of man above beast, might just be an illusion.