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A Machiavellian Smile or a Contagious Laugh? The Art of Gaining Power: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Feminine Power in Emile Zola’s Nana

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In the naturalist French novel, Nana (1880) by Emile Zola, the women characters, Nana and Sabine, are each posed as a foil for the other. Nana is an extroverted prostitute outwardly raging war against a patriarchal society, while Sabine seems to accept relentless objectification by her husband and the men around her as a perfectly doting bourgeois wife and mother. In a novel full of historical, social, and political significance, I implement a sociolinguistic and sociohistorical approach in my analysis of Nana and Sabine and their subversion of societal expectations through their language, body, and participation in the institutions of marriage and motherhood. My research provides insight into how each woman either indexes their expected role or undermines it in relation to nineteenth-century societal conventions in France. Through this hybrid lens, I argue that neither Sabine nor Nana fulfill a simplified social role as expected and, in fact, their possession of power (or lack thereof) must be more finely deduced from key indexical elements such as the body and language. Furthermore, by analyzing Nana from a sociolinguistic point-of-view, I reveal the ways in which the novel’s conclusion of Nana’s ultimate rejection from society and Sabine’s increase in power (a conclusion that aligns perfectly with Zola’s naturalist vision), stems directly from their polarized ways of expressing agency in a man’s world.

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A Machiavellian Smile or a Contagious Laugh? The Art of Gaining Power: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Feminine Power in Emile Zola’s Nana

In the naturalist French novel, Nana (1880) by Emile Zola, the women characters, Nana and Sabine, are each posed as a foil for the other. Nana is an extroverted prostitute outwardly raging war against a patriarchal society, while Sabine seems to accept relentless objectification by her husband and the men around her as a perfectly doting bourgeois wife and mother. In a novel full of historical, social, and political significance, I implement a sociolinguistic and sociohistorical approach in my analysis of Nana and Sabine and their subversion of societal expectations through their language, body, and participation in the institutions of marriage and motherhood. My research provides insight into how each woman either indexes their expected role or undermines it in relation to nineteenth-century societal conventions in France. Through this hybrid lens, I argue that neither Sabine nor Nana fulfill a simplified social role as expected and, in fact, their possession of power (or lack thereof) must be more finely deduced from key indexical elements such as the body and language. Furthermore, by analyzing Nana from a sociolinguistic point-of-view, I reveal the ways in which the novel’s conclusion of Nana’s ultimate rejection from society and Sabine’s increase in power (a conclusion that aligns perfectly with Zola’s naturalist vision), stems directly from their polarized ways of expressing agency in a man’s world.