Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Gervaise (zhehr-VEHZ), a laundry worker. Deserted by her lover, Lantier, she marries Coupeau, with whom she prospers until her husband is disabled by an accident and takes to drink. When Lantier returns, she begins to degenerate until, worn out by the hardships of her life, she dies alone.


Lantier (lahn-TYAY), Gervaise’s lover, who deserts her and their two children only to return later and complete the ruin of her life.


Coupeau (kew-POH), Gervaise’s husband. A roofer, he works hard to support his family until, idled by an accident, he takes to drink.


Adèle (ah-DEHL), the prostitute for whom Lantier deserts Gervaise.


Virginie (veer-zhee-NEE), Adèle’s sister and the enemy of Gervaise, over whom she finally triumphs by acquiring Gervaise’s shop and the favors of Lantier.


Nana, the daughter of Gervaise and Coupeau. Her decision to leave home for the streets causes Gervaise to lose all interest in life and hastens her complete degeneracy and death.


Goujet (gew-ZHAY), a neighbor secretly in love with Gervaise, whom he tries in vain to help.


Claude (klohd) and


Étienne (ay-TYEHN), the children of Gervaise and Lantier.

Madame Boche

Madame Boche (bohsh), an older friend of Gervaise.

Madame Fauconnier

Madame Fauconnier (foh-koh-NYAY), the proprietor of a laundry, who gives Gervaise work after her desertion by Lantier.

L'Assommoir Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Baguley, D., ed. Critical Essays on Émile Zola. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. A collection of historical responses to Zola, including the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne’s famous condemnation of L’Assommoir.

King, Graham. Garden of Zola: Émile Zola and his Novels for English Readers. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1978. Describes the book’s compulsive readability, a result of its rise-and-fall structure. Discusses the reception of the novel, its imagery, and much else.

Lethbridge, Robert. “Reading the Songs of L’Assommoir.” French Studies: A Quarterly Review 45, no. 4 (October, 1991): 435-445. Describing the twenty songs in the novel and their context in the plot, the author shows the upsetting hybridity of the narration. Zola invites the reader ironically to observe the peasants, yet at the same time excludes the reader with the songs.

Lethbridge, Robert. “A Visit to the Louvre: L’Assommoir Revisited.” The Modern Language Review 87, no. 1 (January, 1992): 41-55. Demonstrates in detail what the characters notice and avoid in their visit to the Louvre, and shows the mutually self-defining distinction between verbal and pictorial cultures.

Viti, Robert M. “Étienne Lantier and Family: Two-timing in L’Assommoir and Germinal.” Neophilologus 75, no. 2 (April, 1991): 200-206. Étienne is conflicted by his dual inheritance: his father’s revolutionary and temporally disruptive existence and his mother’s bourgeois ideal of order.