January 28, 2017
While L’Assommoir is usually seen as a novel about alcoholism, this article proposes a reading of Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir [The Drunkard, 1877] from the angle of solitude instead.
In the Goutte-d’Or neighborhood, living conditions are crowded and apartment doors are left open, yet promiscuity fails to offer a sense of community, but rather provides a voyeuristic opportunity where local gossips spread rumors that shatter social connections. The family home, which could offer a safe haven from the polluting noise of the street, is not presented as a cohesive force; conjugal disputes and violence leave men, women and children disconnected from each other, isolated in a solitude that leads to destruction. Indeed, without the anchoring provided by social and family ties, the characters of L’Assommoir slowly disintegrate. More than any other character, Gervaise shows that without the “integration” praised by French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), suicide seems to be the only reasonable alternative to a miserable, lonely life.
You can read the essay here: “L’Assommoir de Zola: des bêtes humaines assommées par la solitude”, Excavatio, Vol. XXVIII.