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 (bohsh), an older friend of Gervaise.
Madame Fauconnier (foh-koh-NYAY), the proprietor of a laundry, who gives Gervaise work after her desertion by Lantier.
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.
(The entire section is 440 words.)