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Les Halles in Zola

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In the final chapter of Le Ventre de Paris, it seems that Zola wraps up the story in the way that we expected him to. Florent is sent back to prison and the fat people continue their lives unaffected. However, I think that a careful reading of this last chapter shows will show us so much more. When Lisa goes to the police with the information that she has on Florent, she is told not to worry, that they already know about him, and in fact have been keeping tabs on him since he arrived, but they are biding their time before taking any action. Later in the chapter, Zola shows us the reason for this waiting; the police and the parliament use the outrage over Florent's rebellious ideas to pass unpopular laws, which would have otherwise stalled. In fact, knowing that Logre and Lebigre were informers, it is clear that the events were actually manipulated intentionally to form this outcome. This new knowledge clearly changes how we have to look at the character Florent and his place in Les Halles, but I think that it also necessarily changes the way in which we see Les Halles itself. Most importantly, however, I think that this information is the key to understanding the whole novel, and Zola's motive in writing it.

First, let's reexamine Florent and his relationship to the city. Reading the book gives us a relatively clear idea of who Florent is as a person. He is weak and he is thin, and though he might have noble intentions, he is living in a fantasy world. He obviously cannot understand the reality of the city and so he imagines himself in opposition to it, he becomes the imaginary leader of an imaginary rebellion. As we read through the book we can empathize with Florent to an extent, but never entirely, because we are able to see the city in a way that he cannot. Zola makes it quite clear that none of the characters living in the city are anywhere near perfect. Everyone in Les Halles is bound by their own moral code; there is no real 'evil' here, just a natural order. So, while it is true that Florent is set up as an underdog, pit again the city, we never really want to connect to him. However, when Zola reveals to us that Florent was being manipulated all along, everything changes.

Now, we might feel outraged on Florent's behalf and have an urge to rally around him, and I think that this is a mistake a lot of readers will make. The revelation that Florent was being manipulated, compels us to reevaluate our understanding of how Florent fits into Les halles, but it cannot be the only thing we look at. If we stop here, I think that it will become very easy to see the entire novel in the wrong way. Now Florent will not simply be a delusional man incapable of seeing the truth in front of his eyes; now it will seems as though Florent might actually be in the right, that the city is actually conspiring against him. If we do not look any deeper than this, it will seem like Zola has made Florent into a martyr,



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