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Zola, writes Therese Raquin using the French naturalism genre he is famous for, in which he realistically molds the dark side of innate and universal human qualities, showing the reader how these traits and the choices we make because of them can alter our lives in unexpected and disturbing ways. The careful development of plot and character traits, in which Therese and her lover, Laurent, do anything to be rid of her husband, depict the characters as victims of human nature and desires so that the reader identifies with these concepts and hopes for the impossible along with the characters. It is through the poor decisions and the inevitable destruction of his characters that Zola provides his lesson to humanity that striving for what we can’t have while ignoring the costs destroys us.

In carefully crafting personalities, environments and situations which both make the reader empathize with his characters and disapprove of their actions, Zola unveils an important and often intangible divide which exists between human thought and action The reader identifies with the characters and their desires to have what they want instead of what their lives offer. The reader feels the human aversion to unfair situations, which makes him or her view Therese and Laurent’s emotions and desires to change their situation more favorably. But, when Therese and her lover do the unthinkable, and murder her husband so they can be together and have everything they want, Zola records of a shift in the paradigm of their world and the tolerance of the reader. After Therese and Laurent break codes of morality to get what they want, they change in the eyes of the reader from protagonists to antagonists. Zola helps the reader observe that it is natural to wish and want, but wrong to compromise morality to obtain desires.

Through his naturalistic depiction of his characters, Zola asks the reader to consider the impact of allowing vices or weaknesses to govern thoughts and decisions. In Therese’s changing personality, he shows how her vices lead to more discontent when she gives in to them. Through the unsettling and bleak decline in Therese’s quality of life the reader sees and feels an unhappy person become inconsolable as she allows her weaknesses to control her life. With her husband,Therese is described as isolated and discontent. Later, though, her life is ruined by her mistake, and she is inescapably tormented by the damage she has done. Zola shows with her changing personality, how Therese’s vices end up leading to more discontent than living with dissatisfaction.

Written in the nineteenth century, Therese Raquin stands the test of time, because it is a distinct study of the human condition. The reader experiences a series of complex thoughts and emotions along with the characters, which keep the story interesting. Zola teaches the reader an important message: all people experience selfishness, dissatisfaction, greed, envy, but it is how they learn to live with it that matters. Thus, the tale remains relevant.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars