Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-29


After watching her body weaken and her joints stiffen, Mme Raquin finds herself reduced to a completely paralyzed state by a sudden stroke. And with Mme Raquin’s absolute paralysis, a new stage is opened in Thérèse and Laurent’s life of despair. Without the old woman’s distracting chatter, they have no choice but to face their murderous choice and the terrors of Camille’s lingering presence. Thérèse, however, finds a diversion and a little comfort in caring for the immobile old woman, and becomes very good at administering to Mme Raquin’s every need.

The Thursday evening guests have their own way of coping with the change; they pretend that nothing has happened to Mme Raquin. Grivet even jokes with the paralyzed woman and acts as though he understands her perfectly, though in fact he misreads or misconstrues her every wish. Yet the paralyzed Mme Raquin is still able to communicate quite effectively; her eyes can take on an astonishing range of expressions and reveal with great accuracy what she is feeling and thinking.

Mme Raquin believes that she will die in peace, surrounded by her beloved little family. However, she is in for a rude shock. After closely observing Thérèse and Laurent for several weeks, Mme Raquin intuits the true, anguished relationship between the young couple and understands what is at the root of their actions - the murder of Camille. And Mme Raquin is transformed. She wants to repudiate God for misleading her for so long, for making her believe in human goodness. She is motivated, now, by a desire to see vengeance enacted upon her son’s killers.

Thérèse and Laurent quickly become aware that their secret has been uncovered by the old woman, but they continue to minister to her needs. Now, being carried around by Laurent and being looked after by Thérèse is torture to Mme Raquin.

Since they know that their secret is out, Thérèse and Laurent must decide how to deal with Mme Raquin. Thérèse believes that Mme Raquin will find a way to communicate her knowledge, despite her paralysis, yet Laurent is more afraid of arousing suspicions by keeping Mme Raquin out of sight. So the two accomplices decide that Mme Raquin will continue to attend the Thursday evenings.

At the next gathering, Mme Raquin gathers the last of her strength and attempts to make the murder known; she can only communicate by moving her right hand, but even this is enough. Unfortunately for her, her attempts to deliver her knowledge are hampered by Grivet, who tries (with no accuracy whatsoever) to decipher her meaning. Mme Raquin is nonetheless able to trace out the following message: “Thérèse and Laurent are…”

And then her strength fails. Grivet unhelpfully finishes the sentence by claiming that Mme Raquin meant to write “Thérèse and Laurent are taking good care of me.” The old woman is crushed, trapped by her own sense of defeat and uselessness.

The relationship between Thérèse and Laurent is marked by increasing rancor and violence. Every evening a loud quarrel breaks out, and the two murderers - now feeling mutually, inescapably trapped - cast blame on each other for Camille’s murder and their ensuing misfortunes. Forced to listen to these altercations, Mme Raquin learns the details of her son’s death. The old woman is annoyed to see that Thérèse, on occasion, strikes a remorseful tone and asks forgiveness for her crimes against Camille. Mme Raquin is, however, delighted by the direction that these quarrels soon take; rather than just answering Thérèse’s accusations and crafting insults of his own, Laurent soon begins to beat his wife.

Now Thérèse’s attempts to escape her past deeds enter a new phase. The young woman regularly approaches Mme Raquin to beg her forgiveness, often using elaborate speeches and tearful demonstrations, and often in Laurent’s presence. Thérèse makes a point of criticizing Laurent and of praising the departed Camille. For Laurent, these demonstrations are simply an aggravating hypocrisy and his state of maddened fury becomes even more extreme. He now assaults Thérèse regularly, yet he also suffers from the troubling, brain-bursting sensation that he is becoming Camille himself.


In these chapters, Mme Raquin and her perspective return with a vengeance. There are good reasons why the old woman was disregarded, for the most part, during the preceding portions of the narrative; Zola needed this space to map out the early conflicts in Thérèse and Laurent’s marriage, and Mme Raquin was passive and oblivious during these struggles. But now that Mme Raquin has anxieties of her own, Zola, with his focus on physical suffering and high drama, returns the kindly haberdasher to the fore.

Paralysis brings Mme Raquin horrifying revelations, and transforms her into a very different woman: stern, hateful, and remarkably sensitive. And Zola surrounds her discovery of Camille’s death with images of catastrophe and illumination. When Mme Raquin at last learns of her son’s fate, “the awful truth burned the crippled woman’s eyes like a flash of lightning and entered in her with the finality of a thunderclap” (152). Here, the image of Mme Raquin’s eyes is also important; her gaze is still remarkably expressive, but now, she expresses mostly “thoughts of revenge that drove all the goodness out of her life” (153).

But Mme Raquin makes another, much less terrible discovery; at last, she realizes how flawed and empty-headed her Thursday evening guests are. (Finally, she and Thérèse seem to see eye-to-eye on the frustrating quality of these visitors.) Although these are some of the absolute bleakest chapters of Thérèse Raquin, they also contain one of Zola’s major instances of dark comedy and dramatic irony. Grivet, long lampooned as aloof and dimwitted, frustrates Mme Raquin’s ability to deliver a simple message - “Thérèse and Laurent murdered Camille,” or something to the same effect. The reader knows that this damning accusation is what Mme Raquin intends, but Grivet is convinced that the old woman wants to say “Thérèse and Laurent are taking good care of me” (157-158).

None of Zola’s characters (with the possible exception of the increasingly ridiculous Thursday guests) accomplish anything pleasurable at this stage of the narrative. The dominant note, now, is one of useless motion and inescapable paralysis. Thérèse and Laurent don’t sit idle; they constantly engage one another in bitter arguments and break into physical altercations. In this respect, they are violently dynamic. But at the end of the day, they remain trapped in the same apartment and the same routines in the Passage du Pont-Neuf, no more able to leave the site than Mme Raquin.

Admittedly, these can be frustrating chapters. The arguments between Thérèse and Laurent are long and multi-layered, yet lead nowhere. Plans that could move Zola’s plot along in suspenseful new ways (such as Mme Raquin’s delivery of her new knowledge) are foiled. Yet making the reader feel frustration is a masterstroke on Zola’s part; if only a little, it gives you a sense of what his terminally frustrated protagonists must feel.