Instead of fighting off Camille’s ghostly presence, Thérèse and Laurent sink deeper and deeper into their state of maddened despair. Now, both of them succumb to the worst aspects of Thérèse’s temperament: her over-sensitivity, fretfulness, and neuroses. Morality plays no part in these disturbances; rather, animalistic fear drives these two contrasting personalities to the breaking point.
For a week, Laurent and Thérèse are afflicted with insomnia. Even though all their affection for one another is gone, weariness at last drives them to take to the same bed and attempt to sleep. They wear their clothes under the sheets, and whenever they try to ease their wretchedness by exchanging a touch or a kiss, they find themselves pulling back in revulsion. Despite his own weakened and pitiful state, Laurent urges Thérèse to be strong and courageous. He asks himself how he can finally drive away Camille’s influence.
Harrowed and distraught, Laurent and Thérèse try a new desperate tactic to drive away Camille’s corpse. Laurent grasps Thérèse while they are sleeping, and the two exchange ferocious kisses and engage in vicious, exhausting intercourse. But when they are done, husband and wife burst into hopeless tears. They know that Camille’s ghastly, vengeful body will occupy their bed, and they sorrowfully wonder what will become of them.
Meanwhile, Grivet and Old Michaud are thoroughly delighted by the marriage of Thérèse and Laurent. The two men had been depressed by the somber mood of the Thursday gatherings after Camille’s death, and had feared that the Raquins might leave Paris altogether. Surprisingly, Thérèse is content to see the Thursday evenings continue. Her real moments of torture are the moments when she is with Laurent, and anything that allows her to be distracted from his presence is thoroughly welcome. Laurent’s feelings towards Thérèse are much the same.
Because Thérèse and Laurent are most afraid of their wedding chamber and of each other’s company, they begin to attend to Mme Raquin and find relief in her constant stream of chatter. Yet this form of relief may not last long, since Mme Raquin is gradually being overtaken by paralysis. Thérèse and Laurent fear the day when her talk will no longer be there to distract them. Despite these constant anxieties, the couple manages to deceive the Thursday evening guests, sometimes without trying; Grivet, for instance, jokes that the bags under Thérèse’s eyes are due to all-night lovemaking, never suspecting the horrible truth.
It takes four months of inertia, marked by psychological torture, before Laurent decides to cash in on his marriage and secure a few lasting benefits. In a move that shocks the veteran office worker Grivet, Laurent leaves his job with the Railway, rents a studio, and decides to pursue the leisurely life of an artist. Mme Raquin agrees to Laurent’s new plan and Thérèse welcomes it as a way of removing her husband’s hated presence from her life, at least intermittently.
Laurent paints not as a career, but as a diversion. One day as he is walking along, he meets an old friend who has met with real critical success in the world of art. He invites the friend to the studio, and this acquaintance - remembering Laurent’s lack of talent but still eager to satisfy his curiosity - accompanies Laurent. As soon as Laurent shows his recent figure paintings, the friend is reduced to disbelieving astonishment. Now, miraculously, Laurent has obtained sound painting techniques and evinces real inspiration.
The friend expresses his admiration, but also makes one constructive criticism: all of the faces that Laurent has painted look the same. When the friend is gone, Laurent re-examines his canvases. It is true; all his figures, in fact, look just like Camille. In a frenzy, Laurent tries to paint a new figure that will not resemble the drowned man - trying girls, caricatures, even cats and dogs. It is no use. He stops his feverish drawing and, in despair, realizes that he will never escape these vestiges of Camille.
For much of Thérèse Raquin, Laurent appeared to take the lead in the relationship between him and Thérèse - first by initiating their affair, then by killing Camille. Now Thérèse exerts the superior influence. Under the influence of Thérèse’s “fervent nature,” Laurent finds that “his own temperament had become that of a girl suffering from acute neuroses” (123). But this is not a state of pure weakness, and (though he is not conscious of its effect) Laurent’s keyed-up sensibilities and sensitivities will eventually manifest themselves in a dramatically artistic way.
For the present, the unhappy husband and wife make one last attempt to ease their suffering by making love, but find that this ploy has exactly the opposite effect. Repeatedly, Zola uses imagery that indicates the extreme torture that results from this effort: it seems to the murderers “that they had fallen against burning coals;” they feel as though “red-hot pins had been stuck into their limbs:” and they end by weeping “tears of blood” (131). Instead of serving as a figure of passion or inspiration, Zola’s heat and fire imagery are simply used to convey agony.
In fact, the only way that Thérèse and Laurent can avoid Camille is by living less passionately, by indulging the trifles and commonplaces that once brought Thérèse such exasperation. Now Thérèse welcomes the Thursday guests, listens gratefully to Mme Raquin’s chatter, and even takes an interest in the state of the apartment, feeling a constant “urge to tidy up” (134). Outwardly, she is living exactly the kind of life she lived in Camille’s day, and then some; now, she actually displays a measure of enthusiasm for the duties of a good bourgeois housewife.
Laurent, whose painting pursuits have been neglected for quite some time, also seems to return to an earlier version of himself. He leaves his job and rents an artist's studio, displaying some of the nonchalance and irresponsibility he displayed before the murder - or so it seems. In reality, he is using painting to flee Thérèse and Camille, not (as with Camille’s portrait) to draw closer to the Raquins. And even the nature of his painting has changed significantly; where once he worked from living models, now he feels compelled to paint “whatever his imagination suggested” (142).
It is Laurent’s sadly ironic fate that the different aspects of his personality will never line up to make him a great, or even decent, painter. Early on, he lacks sound technique and any sort of real inspiration, but at least he is calm and levelheaded enough to see a canvas through to the end. Now, he has gained both technique and inspiration, yet every figure he draws will be undermined by its “family resemblance” to Camille. He is a figure of futile power, whose strength, youth, and now artistic talent will never find a meaningful outlet. Much like Thérèse, Laurent is stunted by his temperament and the life he has been locked into.