In the novel, Therese Raquin, the author, Emile Zola, presents the reader with a story of characters that undergo the fight between free will and fate. The principle of free will is reoccurring in the realm of naturalism, which is the foundation of all of Zola’s literary works. Therese and Laurent, the main characters, had committed adultery, murder, and then had to deal with the consequences of their actions. Zola brings the reader to analyze what had motivated them to commit this immoral behavior and what it did to torture the rest of their lives.
He presented the characters with a lack of control over their instincts which emphasized the strength of fate over one’s free will. Zola writes with a scientific approach as there are emotional events yet it is vacant of any emotion. He portrayed the characters as human brutes and their functioning resembled that of a machine. This principle of fate overpowering free will had an impact on the characters lives both physically and morally as it is evident throughout their miserable existence preceding their crimes.
The consequences of their animalistic actions left them with horror filled hallucinations, physical ailments, unhealthy relationships, and no will to live. Zola explains this questionable behavior by attributing a lack of control over their decisions and a 3 of emotion in their reaction to what they had done. This brings the reader to discover this battle between one’s free will and the uncontrollable fate present in their lives Without free will, the characters, especially Laurent and Therese have lost hope in gaining control over their lives.
They were having an affair and viewed Camille’s existence as a burden, and this instinct drove them to their actions. In a sane mind, that would not seem like a rational evaluation of a situation. This reoccurring lack of control over their immediate instincts contributes to Zola’s main theme of fate’s strength over humanity. The murder of Camille, Therese’s spouse, was the outstanding result of the defeat to fate Laurent and Therese experienced but was not the only repercussion. These two were mentally harassed by simply the presence of one another.
This haunting deteriorated their relationship in all aspects, especially sexual interaction and passionate feelings for each other. The murder committed brought complete misery to their physical state. The guilt they felt affected them in ways such as cramping limbs, discomfort within their whole body, and non stop sweating. Their soul was absent from the guilt they were feeling and it was cast upon them in a physical manner. When Laurent and Therese slept together there would be a large space in between and would dread the thought of any intimate pleasure with each other.
For example, Zola wrote, “When they did wake up, their limbs stiff and aching, with livid blotches on their faces, shivering with discomfort and cold… ashamed to show their disgust and terror”(Zola, p125). Their bodies reactions to their feelings were the only expression of emotion that they had. Rather than feelings from their soul. This portrayed their lose of control over themselves not only morally in their actions, but physically. Therese at times felt the remorse, despair, and stress of what they had done to someone she had loved and been committed to.
Whenever this was evident, Laurent would get upset with her and make sure that she immediately forgot those feelings and depleted any evidence of having a soul. Therese did not handle the consequences of their actions as easily as Laurent. She was most distressed when she was alone with Madame Raquin, Camille’s mother. One scene with just the two of them was described as, “She would lie down on the floor, then get up again, acting according to whatever idea of humility or pride, repentance or revolt came into her head”(167, Zola). This again reiterates the utter lose of control over her dealings with the situation.
She is being told by Laurent to be stronger, forget what happened and at the same time being faced daily by the ailing mother of the man she killed. Although Laurent is portrayed at times to not be bothered by what he did, he is experiencing a similar physical terror. When he committed the murder, Camille managed to bite his neck leaving him with a scar on his neck. This has done nothing but haunt him, being his major weakness in dealing with the aftermath of the murder. The physical affect of the scar is pain wrenching as it would make his throat feel tight and throb. In an episode of the scar ffecting him Zola explained, “The blood had rushed suddenly to his neck and his neck was burning. He put a hand to it, feeling the scar from Camille’s bite beneath his fingers. He had almost forgotten the bite, and now he was terrified to find it on his skin” (89, Zola). This was something physical that will always be there to remind Laurent of what he had done. When the presence of the scar would bother him and reach its peak he related it to the feeling of nails all over his flesh. Although, in his case there was truly no moral remorse, it was just the physical consequences that affected him.
Zola explained that when Laurent was feeling calm and comfortable he would have committed the murder all again. If it was not for this defeat of fate over free will to encourage the two of them to kill Camille they may still have a chance at physical stability. Zola emphasizes the physical symptoms of this defeat they experience because of the influence it had on their lives. Zola made the physical repercussions out to be an overwhelming affect of the murder, but the hallucinations they experienced were almost as frequent.
As mentioned, the physical presence of one another caused guilt, but that was merely a trigger in some instances. The horrifying and haunting consequence also came from the nightmares, mirages, and apparitions that were brought upon them. It was during the night that these episodes the worst. Emile Zola explained Laurent’s nightly experience as, “He came out in a cold sweat and childish terrors assailed him. In this way, he went through periodic crises, nervous attacks that returned every night and deranged his senses” (124, Zola).
Laurent may have been able to avoid the guilt much better than Therese, yet he was not able to escape the reoccurring glimpse of Camille’s corpse in his nightmares and hallucinations. He does not even blame this hysteria of murder on guilt he claims it is Therese’s anxiety and nerves affecting him. Zola frequently refers to Laurent as a wretch in that he cannot accept any moral responsibility for what he had done. It was the insomnia that set in which drove him to an utter misery. He explains this as, “He had lapsed into the intolerable existence and endless horror in which he was now entrapped” (124, Zola).
These physical ailments and hallucinations may not have brought them to a rational and humane guilty feeling, but it detrimentally affected their relationship. The feelings they had between each other were questionable from the start because of the lack of true emotion in the novel. Although, this was magnified when they could not stand to sleep near each other, be alone in a room together, or even look at one another. They reached such a desperate extent when they acknowledged that they needed to have Madame in the room to be somewhat sane.
Zola describes Madame’s presence as, “Therese and Laurent were horrified to see the vanishing of this person who, for the time being, was keeping them apart and whose voice roused them from their nightmares” (137, Zola). Their selfish and immoral perspective is obvious here as their worries were not placed on her well being, but the worry of how they would live once she was gone. They devoted all of their time to insure she stuck around as long as possible, only to savor the third party who enlightened the sinister place they called home.
As a result of immorality due to lose of free will in their actions animalistic behavior was employed. The murder they committed was inhumane in itself, but the way not only Laurent and Therese behaved as well as Madame Raquin was in fact animalistic. At times there was no restraint on their actions and no rationale among their mental anguish. This has been exemplified in the physical and delusional affects present, but when the elderly and paralyzed Madame found out they were in fact the ones that killed Camille, her son, we saw a wretched side of her.
She saw that they were suffering and wanted nothing but a miserable and desolate life for the two of them. At the conclusion of the book, shortly before the two criminals commit suicide in front of her, she explains her malice towards them, “She merely begged heaven to leave her enough life to witness the violent outcome that she foresaw. Her last wish was to feast her eyes on the spectacle of the ultimate suffering that would destroy Therese and Laurent. ” (192, Zola). Zola exposed this animalistic behavior in the scenes in the morgue as well.
An establishment that encompassed deceased bodies that would usually be respected in a society with values was mocked and used as some sort of social area for young children and even older adults. The bodies were manipulated and used as a daily entertainment factor. This irrational behavior depleted of any guilt or moral doubt emphasized the ultimate lack of free will therefore resulting in this inhumane behavior. The human problem that Zola has highlighted in this novel relies on the characters reliance on fate and utter lose of control of their free will.
The novel is devoid of true moralistic values and focused on the psychological and physical mechanics of the guilt they experienced. This was exaggerated specifically because of the approach that Zola takes towards writing as he focused on the insanity that occurred when the temperaments of these different characters mixed together, hence his scientific approach. Their motives in killing Camille, caring for Madame, and most other aspects in their life were devoid of initiative to do what is right and simply let their instincts take them over.
Their actions contained no humanity and the consequences were physically and psychologically deadly. The episodes of haunting and hallucinations that they experienced deteriorated their mental capacity along with their relationship. This animalistic behavior portrayed the loss of free will and actions inferior to any sort of respected value system. Emile Zola shared Therese and Laurent’s experience with this defeat to fate and how it ultimately lapsed their existence.
Zola, Emile. Therese Raquin. London, England: Penguin Books, 1962. Print.