The Paradise by Émile Zola

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In The Paradise, greed controls how people act and feel, even though passion and desire provoke greed’s demise. Émile Zola perfected the assimilation of time ( the early 1800’s) and the public desire for an infatuating tale of the consumer society, fashion, instant gratification, and greed.


The story begins with Denise Baudu. Denise is a young woman, of around 20, that longed to have a larger meaning in the world. This became apparent to me when the author included a section that described her always being different from everyone and being a young girl in need of adventure.


Denise had just moved from her small village in France (due to her parents’ death), to Paris, the country's most prestigious and debutante-filled city. She and her two brothers, Jean and Pépé, tried to find refuge with their Uncle Edmund Baudu; a very poor draper who owned a dress shop.  Unfortunately, Monsieur Baudu is forced to refuse Denise and her siblings of staying with him. When this information brought sorrow from both Denise and Edmund, Denise made the decision that she would find a job so that she could pay for Jean and Pépé to have a place to stay. These actions definitely make her a protagonist who can be a role model for readers.


She and her uncle spent time talking about themselves, catching up on the years they had spent apart. Edmund spoke of the hardship that his shop had been through because of The Ladies’ Paradise. The Ladies’ Paradise was the first department store in France, and it was enormous. The Ladies’ Paradise was opposite of Edmund’s shop, and ever since management had decided to expand, all of the revenue and expected incomes had been lost. Denise began to wonder what it would be like to actually work there. I feel this is why I related with her and got attached to her as a character.


After Denise is hired in the ladieswear department at The Ladies’ Paradise, she begins to catch the eye of a man, to whom everyone refers to as Monsieur Mouret. Denise had met him her first day of entering, and suspected that he was just a man of intimidation and shallow-minded thinking.


Not even two months of working, Denise had heard many rumors and stories of Mr. Mouret and the scandal that followed him like a shadow. Denise’s uncle described Mouret as “A fellow who had come up from the South of France with the amiable audacity of an adventurer; no sooner arrived than he commenced to distinguish himself by all sorts of disgraceful pranks with the ladies; had figured in an affair, which was still the talk of the neighborhood; and to crown all, had suddenly and mysteriously made the conquest of madame Hédouin, who brought him The Ladies’ Paradise as a marriage portion.” (pg. 20) His reputation was comprised of greed, and not just in the The Ladies’ Paradise. He was addicted to women and leading them in a game, only to abandon them and move to the next one. She had heard of his wife, and her death being questioned on whether it was a true accident. Rumors, those especially involving a person no one knows a lot about, can be a very infectious falsehood.


Looking back, I remember when I saw Denise as a strong character, who wasn’t afraid to say or do what she thought was right. But now, I realise that she is just an ordinary girl, trying to live in a world where greed consumes people. As a teenage girl who goes to high school, and is constantly being put under pressure, I see how a character like Denise is so likeable. She is very realistic, which makes it easier for connections to be made. I relate to Denise on how she constantly dreams of leaving her small town, and finally takes a step to go some place else, and leave her mark on the world. I also relate to Denise because of her clueless perspective on ‘true love’. Throughout the story you see her contemplating people's’ motives for chasing others in order to receive their affection. I found this quite amusing because most of the subjects she mentioned were so relevant to me today, and Denise is a character who was created over 150 years ago.


Denise is faced with hardships and difficult decisions that impact what she thinks of herself as time goes by. This even leads to her own form of greed that controls how she acts around strangers, friends, and even her family. In the end, her passion for The Ladies’ Paradise and the desire for her new admirable suitor prevail over her toxic greed. After months of recuperation and help from other supporting characters, Denise has a reckoning of herself and of the people who surround her.


When I finally read the last word of the last page in The Paradise, I got an overwhelming feeling of joy and uprising in my heart. It sounds ironic, but I enjoyed this book so much because of how I learned the positive impact that a person can make on their environment. I witnessed a girl become a woman in less than 500 pages, and I feel enlightened that I got to read this beautifully written story. Émile Zola brought perpetuous aspects of being a human and living in such a raw interpretation of how the world is/was seen. In the end, I am extremely grateful for Denise and her hardships, because I believe that everyone who reads her story will see a different perspective on how the world is and how anyone can affect their own life in a positive way. 






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