The collision of temperaments: The analysis of relationships between people with different physiologically determined temperaments An individual’s character can be determined by many factors. People learn behaviour from external factors like the environment they grow up in and by observing the people they interact with. Human behaviour is also impacted by the emotions people experience and the manner in which they express them.
However, a theory from ancient times states that character is strictly determined by a person’s biological factors. A temperament is a person’s natural disposition; the mental, physical, and emotional traits that makes a person who they are (Definition of Temperament). The theory of the four temperaments suggests that a person’s personality or character is “determined by the balance” (Cornwall) of the four essential fluids in the human body which are: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.
Each of the body’ s essential fluids have a corresponding temperament which according to the larousse dictionary of 1875 are bilious or choleric, nervous or melancholic, sanguine, lymphatic and an additional temperament called phlegmatic which is a cross between bilious and lymphatic. In Therese Raquin, Emile Zola demonstrates how relationships between people with different temperaments can affect their individual behaviour and character, which in turn determines their fate.
Zola explores the idea of how temperaments determine a person’s character and how people are affected by interacting with others with different temperaments. This is shown through the relationships in Therese Raquin between Therese and Laurent, Camille and Therese and Camille and Mme. Raquin. The main relationship in Therese Raquin is between Therese and Laurent. The introverted, quiet and reserved Therese comes to life when she begins her relationship with pleasure seeking and outgoing Laurent.
Growing up in the suffocating and oppressing home of Mme. Raquin has made Therese into a numb and lifeless being, who spends day after day helplessly obeying orders from her aunt and taking care of her sick cousin. With a complete lack of ability to support herself she is forced to agree to marry her cousin whom she does not love and move with him and his mother to Paris. There she meets Laurent, a man that sparks her curiosity and fills her with an anxious desire of the flesh.
He makes it difficult for her to conceal her internal passion and natural impulses like she has all her life. From their initial meeting her melancholic temperament is drawn with great force to his Sanguine temperament. At the beginning of her affair Laurent induces a blinding and intense passion in Therese, “It was as though her face had been lit from inside and flames were leaping from her flesh. And around her, her burning blood and taut nerves released hot waves of passion, a penetrating, acrid fever in the air (Zola, 35).
Through this simile Zola effectively describes the initial effect a person with an opposing temperament, which in this case is Laurent, can have on an individual. Laurent causes her character to develop and change. Therese has a melancholic or nervous temperament and Laurent has a Sanguine temperament, which make them complete opposites in terms of how they interact with other people, the way they think and how they feel and express their emotions. This newfound passion of hers is one of the main driving forces for her actions later in the novel.
As the plot thickens and their relationship develops Therese and Laurent become completely intertwined and inseparable. They become almost obsessed with each other. Their opposing temperaments balance each other out and put each of them in a state of blissfulness and tranquility. It’s as though “Nature and circumstances seemed to have made this man for this woman, and to have driven them towards one another. Together, the woman, nervous and dissembling, and the man, lustful, living like an animal, they made a strongly united couple.
They complemented one another, they protected one another” (43). The idea Laurent has animal like tendencies is a recurring motif in Therese Raquin, which is one of the traits for a person with a Sanguine temperament. Like an animal he does only what benefits him and acts on all of his impulses, which are some traits that are later adopted by Therese through their relationship. By being in a relationship with someone of an opposite temperament, their individual temperaments get balanced out as they change and integrate the other person’s temperament into their own.
Their obsession of each other becomes so intense that they are both willing to take any measures to ensure that they can be together at all times to satisfy their desire and hunger for each other. This infatuation is what leads them to murdering Camille, which also develops the plot and brings it to its climax. Therese’s old nervous and reserved character would not be capable of committing such an act and neither would Laurent because his selfish nature would prevent him from putting himself in risk of losing his comfortable life. They both hange one another’s character, which influences them to behave differently. Their actions then determine their fate. After murdering Camille everything goes downhill for them. They lose the equilibrium in their relationship and both become extremely neurotic and fearful of everything. They no longer make each other happy, but instead feel disgusted when their around one another and avoid being together. They are both driven to madness and haunted by their actions, to the point where they can not take it anymore and commit a double suicide.
Through Therese and Laurent Emile Zola shows the effect that two temperaments can have on each other and how it can completely change the lives and fates of the individuals. Another relationship between two characters in Therese Raquin is between Camille and Therese. Therese is left by her father at a young age in her Aunt’s house where she is forced to look after her sickly cousin. As shown through his character development, Camille’s phlegmatic temperament makes him introverted and lack passion, which in turn makes her feel lonely and stultified when she is around him.
She is even forced to share a bed with him and give him medicine when he is sick at night. In that household she is forced to conceal “all her natural impulses” (16) and emotions, which are brought on by her nervous temperament. However, when she does show her intense nature to Camille, it frightens Camille, “He was afraid of her” (17). She is later forced to marry Camille and move with him and his mother to Paris, where she feels even more imprisoned inside the tiny little attic room they share as a bedroom.
Nothing changes and she is stuck inside this life of boredom and despair “for three years, the days went on, one like the next… Therese living in this dank darkness, in this dreary, depressing silence“(22). Imprisonment is a large motif and theme in Therese Raquin. Through the idea of imprisonment, Emile Zola emphasizes and shows the reader the extent to which Therese feels suffocated and oppressed in her household, which is why being with Laurent is so freeing for her because it gives her a chance to let out all the passion and emotions she has been keeping bottled up inside her for all her life.
Camille constantly wants her care and attention but never gives her any affection or attention himself, which combined with the feeling of imprisonment, makes her feel resentment towards him and his mother. This perhaps made her even more willing to run into the arms of Laurent who was willing to accept her true self and bring about something more exciting to her dull, listless life. If there was more love and passion in their relationship perhaps Therese would not have the affair with Laurent and her and Camille’s fate would be very different.
Lastly, the relationship between Camille and Mme Raquin shows the effect that two temperaments have on each other within a mother and son relationship. Mme. Raquin has a choleric temperament which is shown by her dominating and controlling personality. In contrast Camille’s phlegmatic temperament makes him very submissive and meek, which makes him easier to control. Perhaps her strong choleric temperament and constant coddling intensifies his phlegmatic temperament and makes act him weaker and more submissive and if his mother had a different temperament he would be less phlegmatic, and his life would be different.
Throughout all of Camille’s childhood he experiences various sicknesses, some of which almost kills him, but under his mother’s watchful eye he is always nursed back to health. Her controlling and protective nature brought on by her temperament is what keeps him alive throughout all the years of his adolescence and brings him into his adulthood. Therefore it can be deduced that her temperament is what keeps him from dying at a young age, which is perhaps his fate.
Due to his weak phlegmatic temperament he allows her to have complete control over him, until one day he decides to take authority over his own life and demands that he, his mother, and his new wife Therese, move to Paris so he can work. This new stand he takes against his mother isn’t initially appreciated by her, but she quickly accepts and takes control of the situation and “ By the next morning she had grown accustomed to the idea of leaving and drawn up her plans for a new life“( 18).
This develops her character because it shows that her main goal in life is to keep her son safe and happy, even if that means suppressing her dominating nature to do so. This is when he begins to slowly fall out of her tight grasp and into the hands of the fate that has always awaited him. To ensure that they can be together, Therese and Laurent devise a plan to murder Camille in the sein and follow through with it. When Mme.
Raquin hears of her son’s death, she thought of how: She had brought him into the world more than ten times and she loved him for all the love she had shown him in the previous thirty years. And now he had died far away from her, all of a sudden, in cold, dirty water, like a dog (66). This ironically shows the power of her temperament by showing how the one time she lets him out of her tight grasp and supresses her dominating, choleric temperament he finally meets his fate. As shown by Emile Zola in Therese Raquin two temperaments can have substantial effects on each other, which can have fate altering results.
Through analyzing three main relationships in Therese Raquin between Therese and Laurent, Camille and Therese and Camille and Mme Raquin, it is made evident that temperaments can have a strong influence on an individual’s life. Relationships between two people with contrasting temperaments can largely affect the fates of the individuals within the relationship. Through Therese Raquin, Emile Zola effectively explored the theory of temperaments and how biological factors can determine character and behaviour.