In the first chapter of the book Thrse Raquin Zola creates a detailed description of the setting, creating an atmosphere that is some what less then desirable. We are instantly taken into the bleak dark narrow corridor that runs between the Rue Mazarine and the Rue de Seine. Out of this sinister atmosphere that is created we are then introduced to mysterious characters that dwell in the the darkness that is at home in the middle of the day.
Zola creates a tight, claustrophobic, almost suffocating atmosphere, with the narrowness of the arcade; and the stifling dust that clings to everything, sensory images are created with the description of the acrid-smelling damp that seems to linger and encapsulate every section of the narrow passage. There is an overwhelming feeling of oppression throughout the chapter even the sunlight on a fine summers day is described as beating down oppressively. It is not a hospitable place to be and is used as nothing more then a short cut for people who swiftly make there way past the desolate old shops, with no intention of stopping in the menacing ally that looks to be the home of cut-throats.
The wall that runs down the passage is personified as having leprous sores and zigzagged with scars thus adding to the threatening atmosphere, and creating and even narrower feel to the passage because the wall is so revolting that if you were to walk down the narrow corridor you would not want to come into any contact with it which limits the already limited space. Zola uses an array of differing dreary colours to describe the objects that reside along the passage du Pont-Neuf. Yellowish flagstones illustrates a sickly discolouration to the stone, it is not even a full colour, it is almost a shadow of what it once was, which fits perfectly in with the surrounding atmosphere as everything is old and weathered and lost amongst the shadows. The thick dust that hangs heavily on all objects is grey and dismal, with strange greenish reflections shining on the merchandise, much like the description of the flagstones the reflections on the merchandise are not strong in colour Zola describes it as being greenish hinting now all vibrancy has been sucked out of the atmosphere leaving it almost like a forgotten world, with the inescapable dominant colour of black that is prevalent throughout.
Long flowing sentences are used describing one thing at a time, in extensive detail which helps to create the never ending austere atmosphere. It is almost like once you are in it, it is so confining that there is no possible escape but to keep going forward. There is no rush or urgency in the way that Zola describes the setting in chapter one, he is precise and defuse in his linguistic techniques using comers and semi-colons, however, still manages to create an unnerving atmosphere, where if you were in that position of walking through such a passage would add haste to your step. This is effective because it allows the reader to create a developed image of the scene that is set in their minds eye, and has them longing to discover what unfortunate characters might have to be subjected to living in such a depressing atmosphere.
Out of the shadows of one of the narrow shops we are then introduced to three of the characters. Reflecting the mood of their surroundings they too appear to be discoloured and lost beneath the dust and grime. Their house is similar to the outside ally, cold damp, small and depressing. This lack of space can hint that these characters generally feel suffocated, oppressed and trapped, much like all who enter the passage; however, as they live there it is that much more intense, for them there is no light at the end of the passage. They appear to be slaves to their every day routine imprisoned in a gloomy world. The young girl would gaze vacantly at the coarsely rendered wall which reached high up into the sky we are told that she does this regularly and would stand there for a few minutes, this can indicate that she is bored of her surroundings and there is a possibility that she aspires for a way out of the oppressing atmosphere, however, the towering wall trapping her which indicates that there is no real way out, she is forced to exist in the dark, damp dull house, looking out of the grimy windows at the imprisoning wall.
From the very beginning the ominous atmosphere that Zola creates indicates that the book would be about a tragedy of some sort with menacing elements that are consistent throughout the book. It prepares the reader for characters that should be similar in some way to the atmosphere that is created creating an element of expectation as to what should happen in the plot.