Emile Zola and “The Human Beast”

Writer Emile Zola was a controversial figure in his life if one only looked at the amount of people that disliked him, from law enforcement to probably Napoleon. His trial for libel and fleeing to England to avoid imprisonment further compel me to believe that he had a difficult relationship with authority and society as a whole. However, it can be said of such radicals that simply because they annoyed power does not mean they were ne’er-do-wells or even individuals of moral defection. On the contrary, Zola seemed to be an ardent supporter of the marginalized and oppressed in a time when that was…not cool.

Who is he?

Zola was a French novelist and critic who was certainly politically minded and was a naturalist thinker. He wrote a famous open letter entitled “J’Accuse” that defended a Jewish officer accused of treason by the French Army. His “intervention” certainly helped the officer’s case and saw the man’s pardon some years later.

Zola also wrote a 20-novel series titled “Les Rougon-Macquart,” which detailed the interactions between the Rougon and Macquarts families. Truly, this is a great effort and deserves recognition for the veracity of writing alone. Moreover, he wrote “La Bete Humaine,” which is known as “The Human Beast” by English speakers. This novel has been adapted for the screen a few times and describes a man who has a severe psychological condition, which compels him to murder women but the train he drives has always kept him in check. It is a wonderfully dark novel probably unlike anything you have ever read, so check it out!


Zola’s lasting impression can best be summed up by Britannica.com, which states, “Above all, Zola’s writings endure on account of his forthright portrayal of social injustice, his staunch defense of the downtrodden, and his unwavering belief in the betterment of the human condition through individual and collective action” (Brittanica). He lived a controversial life, but also contributed a positive impact with his writing and his words, and that’s the sign of a good writer in my book!

Works Cited