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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

J'Accuse by Emile Zola

What is J'Accuse?

J'Accuse was an open letter written by journalist Emile Zola, and was addressed to the President of France - Felix Faure. It was published on the front of a daily paris newspaper called L'Aurore on January 13th 1898. In the letter, Zola explains the injustice he feels regarding the sentencing of Alfred Dreyfus, and accuses the French government of anti-semitism. Zola was found guilty of libel on February 23rd 1898. He fled to England as a way of avoiding prison, but continued his defence of Dreyfus. He only returned after the French government had collapsed.

The Drefus Affair

The incident occured in the 1900's after France were humiliated by the Germans after the defeat at Sedan in 1871, and the Paris commune. Ideally, the French wanted revenge against the Germans, but they knew that they wouldn't be able to defeat them. The Jews were seen as someone to blame. Secret documents were found in a waste basket. They contained details about the French Armys future plans, and it seemed someone from the French army was sending messages and secrets to the Germans.
They looked for a Jew at the top of the army and framed him. This man became Drefus,
who was targeted because he was from Alsace (now run by the Germans after the war) and was a Jew. He was described as bright and intelligent, and these attributes were seen as 'shifty'. The army held a secret court martial, and despite little evidence, he was found guilty. To  humuliate and punish him, they ripped off his medals, and broke his sword in front of him, before sending him to devils island.

The incident split the country in half.
Thier was the right(anti-dreyfusards) - Army, Catholic Church and Monarchists.
And the left(Dreyfusards) - Interlectuals, Republicans, Socialists and Jews.

An officer later looked into the case and found the evidence waswrong, he discovered a real culprit - an officer called Esterhazy, but his superior dissmissed the evidence. However, they could not prevent the discovery from slowly leaking to the press. The court became pressured to put Esterhazy on trail in a military court, but he was acquitted. It was at this point that writer Emile Zola got involved, and published his now famous J'Accuse letter. He descibes the incident as 'to poison the small and humble'. Zola felt it was important to defend Dreyfus' innoncence. He felt so strongly that he risked imprisonment.

After a change in government, Dreyfus was finaly brought back from the island(something that was never expected). But he was not in a fit state, a broken man, and they still found him guilty with extentuating circumstances'. Although, he was eventually pardoned in 189l.

Zola makes many accusations in his letter, ending the letter sayin 'I accuse' to a number of people including Generals and the offices of the war(the council of war brought in preconcieved ideas to the case before the trial had even began). Although he states that he doesn't know the people he accuses, and has never seen them, and has 'neither resentment nor hatred', this shows that he doesn't do this with malice, he is merely standing for what he believes to be true.

The final words in his letter are 'Please accept, Mr.President, the assurance of my deep respect'. Which (much like the opening of the letter) shows that he doesn't direct his frustration neccesarily at the President but see's him as the person that can change it for the better.

Zola states '...My duty is to speak...' this could be seen as a journalistic phrasing, stating that he feels it is up to him to speak out and reveal to the public(and the President) exactly what is going on the the injusice that has occured.

Overall, phrasing such as 'a spot of mud on your name', helps to try and convince the president to do the right thing, trying to convince the president that he doesn't want to be remembered for the Dreyfus affair. Unfortunatly for Zola, the government was too powerful for one man, but he certainly did help spark concern through the letter, as it was read by thousands of people and let the truth out, leading to riots erupting. Showing the power that journalist can have.


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