Fouan (fwahn), a proud, tough, suspicious old peasant whose waning powers lead him, like King Lear, to divide his land among his children. Without land he loses their fear and respect, and they strip him of the rest of his possessions until he is powerless. Humiliated everywhere, he moves from home to home. Finally his youngest son, fearing Fouan will report him for murder, smothers and burns him.
Rose, his simple, submissive wife, who dies after being hit by the youngest son, leaving Fouan in solitude.
Hyacinthe (yah-SAHNT), called Jésus-Christ, their older son, the amiable village loafer who loves drinking and poaching. He offers Fouan the irregular life of his home, but his father leaves when he learns that Hyacinthe is after his bonds.
Fanny, the daughter, a self-righteous, competent housekeeper whose insults and restrictions on her father drive him to leave for good.
Buteau (bew-TOH), the younger son, a brutal, greedy, lustful man. After rejecting his land inheritance out of pride, he accepts it and marries his cousin for her land, vowing never to lose any of it. He tries to keep his sister-in-law from claiming her share and makes violent attempts to rape her. When she does claim her land, he and his wife are evicted, but they return, rape, and kill her. The land reverts to them. In the end, Buteau’s vicious greed has caused the death of his parents and sister-in-law.
Delhomme (deh-LOHM), Fanny’s husband, a man whose avarice is checked by a crude sense of justice but who supports his wife’s policy with regard to her father.
Lise (leez), a cheerful girl who marries Buteau after bearing his child and then becomes coarse, sullen, and greedy. She makes an enemy of her sister, helps Buteau rape her, and then accidentally kills her in a fight.
Françoise (frahn-SWAHZ), Lise’s sister, a sensitive, attractive girl disgusted by Buteau to the point that she moves to her aunt’s house, accepts a husband whom she does not love, and claims her land. When Buteau finally ravishes her, she realizes she loves him. Dying, she wills him her land.
Jean Macquart (zhahn mah-KAHR), a former soldier, tradesman, and farmhand. A manly, kind person, attracted to Françoise, he finds himself drawn into a violent feud with Buteau and a loveless marriage. When his wife wills her land to Buteau, he decides to become a soldier again.
Hourdequin (ewr-deh-KAHN), a gentleman farmer, Macquart’s employer and friend, a man oppressed by ill-used farm equipment and a promiscuous mistress. In the end, his misfortunes overcome him.
Jacqueline (zhahk-LEEN), his loose mistress, an illegitimate girl who sleeps with all the farmhands.
La Frimat (free-MAH ), an old woman gardener who takes in Buteau...
(The entire section is 697 words.)