American Rhetoric: Movie Speech

"The Life of Emile Zola" (1937)


Zola's Closing Argument in Defense of Captain Dreyfus and Himself

Audio mp3 delivered by Paul Muni


Zola: Gentlemen, in the House of Deputies a month ago to frantic applause, the Prime Minister, Monsieur Mily declared that he had confidence in you 12 citizens into whose hands he had bestowed the defense of the Army. In other words, you were being instructed, by order, to condemn me -- just as in that other case the Minister of War dictated the acquittal of Esterhazy.

[audience shouts "Down with Zola...."]

Judge: The Prime Minister gave no such order to this jury.

Zola: His words made his intention to coerce justice unmistakable! And I denounce them to the conscience of honest men.

Judge: Confine yourself to the facts.

Zola: However, my profession is writing, not talking. But from my struggling youth until today my principal aim has been to strive for truth. That is why I entered this fight. All my friends have told me that it was insane for a single person to oppose the immense machinery of the law, the glory of the Army, and the power of the State. They warned me that my actions would be mercilessly crushed -- that I would be destroyed. But what does it matter if an individual is shattered, if only justice is resurrected?

It has been said that the State summoned me to this Court. That is not true. I am here because I wished it. I, alone, have chosen you as my judges. I, alone, decided that this abominable affair should see the light, so that France might at last know all and voice her opinion. My act has no other object. My person is of no account. I'm satisfied.

But my confidence in you was not shared by the State. They did not dare say all about the whole undividable affair and submit it to your verdict. That is no fault of mine. You saw for yourselves how my defense was incessantly silenced.

Gentlemen, I know you. You are the heart, the intellect of my beloved Paris, where I was born and which I've studied for 40 years. I see you with your families under the evening lamp. I accompany you into your factories, your shops. You're all workers and righteous men. You will not say like many, "What does it matter if an innocent man is undergoing torture on Devil's Island? Is the suffering of one obscure person worth the disturbance of a great country?"

Perhaps, though, you've been told that by punishing me, you will stop a campaign that is injurious to France. Gentlemen, if that is your idea you are mistaken. Look at me. Have I the look of a hireling, a liar, a traitor? I'm only a free writer who has given his life to work, and who will resume it tomorrow. And I am not here defending myself!

Tremendous pressure has been put upon you. "Save the army!" Convict Zola and save France!" I say to you, pick up that challenge! Save the army!! And save France. But do it by letting truth conquer.

Not only is an innocent man crying out for justice, but more -- much more -- a great nation is in desperate danger of forfeiting her honor. Do not take upon yourselves a fault, the burden of which you will forever bear in history. A judicial blunder has been committed! The condemnation of an innocent man induced the acquittal of a guilty man. And now, today, you're asked to condemn me because I rebelled on seeing our country embarked on this terrible course.

At this solemn moment in the presence of this tribunal, which is the representative of human justice, before you gentlemen of the jury, before France, before the whole world, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. By my 40 years of work, by all that I have won, by all that I have written to spread the spirit of France, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent.

May all that melt away. May my name perish if Dreyfus be not innocent.

He is innocent.

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HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.