Étienne Lantier (ay-TYEHN lahn-TYAY), a French laboring man who becomes a miner and falls under the influence of Marxism, which he believes is the workers’ only hope. He organizes the miners, only to lose his popularity when a strike is settled and the people go back to work. His suffering, even the loss of his lover in a mine disaster, only persuades him that he must continue his revolutionary work. He is the illegitimate son of Gervaise Macquart.
Catherine Maheu (kah-teh-REEN mah-HEW), a girl who works as a miner. She is loved by Lantier, even though she takes another man as her lover. She eventually becomes Lantier’s lover after they are trapped together in the collapsed mine. She dies before help reaches them.
Vincent Maheu, an elderly miner nicknamed “Bonnemort” because of his many escapes from accidental death in the mines.
Maheu, Vincent’s son, the father of seven children. He becomes Lantier’s friend and works with him in the mine. He is killed by soldiers during a strike at the mine.
Maheude (mah-HEWD), Maheu’s wife.
Zacharie Maheu (zah-kah-REE), a young miner who marries his mistress after she presents him with two children.
Philomène Levaque (fee-loh-MEHN leh-VAHK), Zacharie’s mistress and, later, his wife.
Souvarine (sew-vah-REEN), a misogynist who becomes Lantier’s friend.
M. Hennebeau (ehn-neh-BOH), one of the mine owners. He refuses to make any concessions to the miners and imports strikebreakers to operate the closed mines.
Paul Négrel (nay-GREHL), nephew of M. Hennebeau. He feels compassion for the miners and leads a rescue party to save them after a mine collapses and traps Lantier and others below the surface of the ground.
Chaval (shah-VAHL), a miner who seduces Catherine Maheu. He is jealous of his rival, Lantier, and their mutual animosity ends in a fight below the surface of the ground in which Chaval is killed.
Dansaert (dahn-SEHRT), head captain of the mine in which Lantier works.
Cécile Grégoire (say-SEEL gray-GWAHR), daughter of a mine owner, fiancée of Negrel Hennebeau.
Maigrat, a rapacious storekeeper who lends money to the women who grant him amorous favors.
M. Grégoire, a mine owner who justifies low pay for the workers by believing they spend their money only for drink and vice.
Jeanlin Maheu (zhahn-LEHN), an eleven-year-old child who works in a mine until he is crippled in an accident. He murders a mine guard, but his crime is hidden by Lantier.
Alzire Maheu (ahl-ZEER), a sister of Catherine. The little girl dies of starvation during the strike.
Pluchart (plew-SHAHR), a mechanic who persuades Lantier to become a Marxist.