The Conflict Between Human Enterprise and Nature in Emile Zola’s “The Flood”

Fatima Muhaidat


Emile Zola is considered as the father of naturalism, a literary movement that underscores the role of heredity and environment in shaping human experience. This study discusses his story “The Flood” (1880) which embodies man’s struggle against nature and illustrates different features of naturalism. The only surviving member of a family hit by a flood retrospectively narrates the details of the calamity. Heart wrenching memories of the family’s unexpected change of fortunes arouse feelings of sympathy, horror, disappointment and anger. At the beginning, the narrator’s farmhouse appears as a safe haven for the whole family. A state of family bliss speaks of their happiness and satisfaction with their success, an outcome of long years of struggle and hard work. The prosperity the family experiences creates harmonious connections with nature as well as forces beyond it; God is seen as a generous friend, and the nearby river is perceived as a good neighbor. However, a stark shift of perceptive occurs as nature never remains a permanent good relation. Her arcane disrupting forces rather strike mercilessly and unexpectedly putting an end to the family’s story of success. Zola carefully articulates the psychological dimension of the jarring event including the anxiety and horror experienced by most characters as well as the defense mechanisms used to deal with them. Through stylistic features such as documentary style, literary contrasts and imagery, readers ruefully realize the high price paid by man as a result of this encounter.


French literature; Naturalism; Emile Zola; “The Flood”; Natural disaster; Human enterprise; Defense mechanisms

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