Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Roubaud and his wife, Séverine, are in Paris. Roubaud, an assistant station-master for a railway company, had made a political comment displeasing to his bosses, so the company had sent him to Paris, possibly to fire him. Because Séverine had grown up in the household of an influential judge, named President Grandmorin, Roubaud was able to keep his job.
While the couple has dinner at their lodgings in Paris, Séverine gives Roubaud a gift: a knife she has just purchased. However, Séverine accidentally reveals that the ring that she wears had been given to her by Grandmorin, and that she had long been his mistress. Roubaud goes into a fit of jealousy, beats Séverine, and forces her to help him murder Grandmorin. Roubaud makes her write a letter to the judge to lure him into taking the same train that they plan to take back to Le Havre.
Meanwhile, train driver Jacques Lantier is able to stop at his old home at La Croix-de-Maufras because of railway repair. His Aunt Phasie tells him that she suspects that her second husband, Misard, a seemingly timid man, has been poisoning her to inherit her one-thousand-franc legacy. She vows that he will never get his hands on the money and tells Jacques that she has hidden it so well that Misard will never find it.
While on a walk that night, Jacques finds his cousin Flore on the property of Grandmorin’s country house, which also happens to be at La Croix-de-Maufras. Flore has always been in...
(The entire section is 993 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In contrast to many of Zola’s other novels, The Human Beast focuses on the darkness of the human soul and the evil deeds which proceed from it rather than the determinism of environment. Much like his other novels, though, The Human Beast does center on the energy of an inhuman machine—in this case, a locomotive—that exacerbates the dark desires of the human soul.
When Zola was planning to write this novel, he had two ideas. First, he wanted to write a carefully observed portrait of railroad life. Second, he wanted to write a novel depicting the corruption of the legal and judicial system in late nineteenth century France. These two ideas merged when he began to contemplate the heart of darkness in Jacques Lantier, a railroad employee whose sexual passion borders on lust for killing.
Lantier, whom Zola contrived to make the orphan son of Gervaise Macquart and Auguste Lantier, is an engineer on the Paris-Le Havre line. He is so consumed by his locomotive that he treats it like a lover, tenderly driving her on the difficult portions of his route and being sure she is well taken care of before he leaves his shift. Lantier fears women, however, because the wild beast that lurks within him manifests itself in a desire for murder in the place of a desire for sex. He attributes this murderous desire to hereditary madness, and he literally runs away from possible sexual liaisons before he commits a deadly act.
(The entire section is 578 words.)