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50 pages 1 hour read

Émile Zola, Transl. Gerhard Krüger

Nana

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1880

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Character Analysis

Nana

As the novel’s protagonist and anti-hero, Nana is nuanced character who primarily represents unchecked female sexuality and the unquenchable power of desire. The daughter of poor parents, one of whom died of alcoholism and the other of starvation, she has always yearned for more. In childhood, she dreamt of seemingly simple pleasures—a partner to love, a simple house in a pastoral setting—but even this fantasy betrays her longing for material comfort. As an adult, her first tastes of luxury give her an insatiable appetite for conspicuous consumption, which in her mind puts her ever closer to her most elusive wish: to be mistaken for a highborn lady. She fails to realize the utter impossibility of this dream. Assuming that respectability is something she can achieve with the right performance—the right clothes, the right walk, the right home décor, she approaches her whole life as a performance. Though the novel confirms that the upper-class women she admires are also consummate actors, their kind of role playing is not accessible to Nana.

Just as she is lost in her desire for upward mobility, Nana is also a locus of irresistible sexual allure. This function of her character is made clear at the very beginning of the novel when she portrays Venus, the goddess of love, in Bordenave’s play.

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