Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

*Goutte d’Or

*Goutte d’Or (goot dor). Neighborhood north of Paris, on the eastern side of Montmartre, a butte on Paris’s northern perimeter that is the center of most of the novel’s action. The Goutte d’Or is now part of the city of Paris, but during the period in which the novel takes place, it was far from the center of metropolitan life. However, now, as then, the Goutte d’Or is a dangerous, crime-ridden slum.

Several places within the Goutte d’Or district are crucial to Gervaise’s frustrated will to improve her lot. Her moral decadence is represented by the very places she inhabits. When she and her family arrive at Goutte d’Or, they live in the Hôtel Boncoeur (whose name means “good heart”). Later, they move to a huge tenement building, in which Gervaise lives in a number of abodes—winding up, most miserably, in a hovel under the stairs.

Other important stages along Gervaise’s way in the Goutte d’Or are symbolized by a sleazy tavern and a smelly, dirty, and crowded apartment building.


*Paris. Seen from the Goutte d’Or, metropolitan Paris stands at a distance, its lights and glamour mocking the lives of the poor of the Goutte d’Or. However, beneath both the Goutte d’Or and the city beyond is the gray, oppressive horizon. After Gervaise marries her second husband, a roofer named Coupeau, they and their wedding guests go on an excursion to the cultural heart of Paris. In a comic episode, they visit the famous Louvre Museum. After a rest stop beneath the Pont-Royal over the Seine River, they climb to the top of the Vendôme column, located in one of the city’s most exclusive business and residential areas.

Maison ouvrière

Maison ouvrière (may-zon ewv-rih-yer). Workers’ hostel in which Gervaise lives. A city-within-a-city, it is a terrifying labyrinth for Gervaise. Zola characterizes the building as a kind of beast that sucks workers into its bowels. Gervaise’s gradual fall is ironically prefigured by her climbing a spiral staircase to meet Monsieur and Madame Lorilleux, who will become two of her worst tormentors.

Sainte-Anne Asylum

Sainte-Anne Asylum. As a kind of geographical counterpart to the Goutte d’Or section, the hospital-asylum in which Gervaise’s husband dies is located on the Left Bank of the Seine, to the far southeast of the city—in an area called La Glacière. The very name of the district, which means “glacier,” suggests harsh cold and, by extension, death. It is with considerable irony that Zola’s descriptions near the end of the novel emphasize the similarities between the maison ouvrière, where Gervaise’s life with Coupeau begins, and the madhouse where her husband wastes away.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 214

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.

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Critical Essays