One of Zola’s main objectives for writing was to describe people, places and events true to nature as they exist in real life—documented in writing with a scientific precision. Zola has certainly achieved this through his characterization of Nana. Even if you take away Nana’s profession, she is a character that transcends time. You could easily find her amidst the in crowd of any high school—the kind of girl who would have dozens of followers about her; and yet no matter how many times she “innocently” manages to trash their lives, she would still have those same followers crawling back to her, begging her
This book is a mess! I don’t think I’ve ever come across a character I despised more. At times, I truly felt badly for those men who fell into Nana’s poisonous clutches, especially the Hugon boys and even Count Muffat and Steiner. I could even empathize with them when it came to their gift giving—watching Nana toss their gifts away like pieces of trash, or watching her break them immediately upon opening. But as the novel progresses, whatever positive feelings you might have had for these characters, seemingly dwindles away, upon the realization that these boys and men are knowingly and willingly crossing a line in terms of behavior—an addiction they don’t want to overcome. For me, watching these characters become more and more immeshed in Nana’s web, essentially wasting away physically, emotionally and monetarily becomes increasingly difficult and upsetting.
However, Zola does create the perfect balance when he wrote that absolutely wonderfully macabre and ironic ending—the juxtaposition of that room, the ladies, the men and those celebratory shouts of the Parisians for the coming Franco-Prussian war. Yet amazingly, even though the ending on a surface level may seem overly dramatic—a typical Romantic style of ending—Zola manages to maintain his cool, scientifically precise tone that’s true to his design.