Etienne is a wandering laborer who lands in Voreux and eventually inspires - informed by his powerful socialist convictions - a labor strike for better pay and working conditions. He is afflicted by bellicose tendencies, which are all the more intensified when he is drunk. He is well-read, and comes under the influence of Marxist ideas, hoping to spark a revolution and be part of a worldwide revolt against bourgeois interests.
Rasseneur is the owner of Tavern L'Avantage and a former miner. He initially takes Etienne in and eventually becomes a vocal opponent of Etienne’s radical politics, instead advocating for a more moderate negotiation and approach to the strike.
Vincent “Bonnemort” Maheu
Vincent is the patriarch of the Maheu who has been working in the mines for over fifty years. He is often quiet but is the first person that Etienne encounters when he comes to the pit.
Toussaint is a respected, hard-working miner whose non-combative tendencies and diplomatic mannerisms make him a figurehead and lead negotiator in the strike. He values and cares about his family greatly, and in their service delivers the strikers’ demands.
Maheude is Maheu’s wife. She is a resilient and tough woman who later becomes the most fervent and fiercest advocate of the strike, even when Etienne begins to doubt its sustainability.
Catherine is Etienne’s love interest and the Maheus’ eldest daughter. She is the prime example of complicity to tradition and authority. Despite this, she is incredibly mature and hard-working. Having worked through the strike (and eventually partaking in it), she dies of starvation and exhaustion after being trapped in the mine.
Zacharie is the eldest of the Maheu children. He marries his love interest, Philomene, who lives next door.
The Levaques are the Maheus’ neighbors. Levaque is on Maheu's pit crew.
Alzire is the eight-year-old daughter of the Maheus. She is precocious but physically weak and dies of cold and hunger after the strike.
Chaval is a mine worker and later Catherine’s lover. He treats her with contempt and abuse, jealous and suspicious of Etienne and his interest in Catherine. In an act of rage, Etienne quarrels with Chaval and ends up killing him when they are trapped in the mine.
Paul is Hennebeau's nephew and an engine man at the Voreux.
Jeanlin is the malicious and supremely clever eleven-year-old who wrecks havoc among the townspeople during the strike, stealing food and other goods while stashing them in a secure location underground with the help of his friends (whom he manipulates and abuses) Bebert and Lydie.
Souvarine is a revolutionary, anarchic Russian emigre who works as an engine man in the mine.
Henri is the six-year-old Maheu sibling.
Lenore is the other six-year-old Maheu sibling.
Estelle is an infant, the youngest Maheu sibling.
Monsieur Gregoire is a wealthy investor and an owner of the Voreux.
Cecile is the Gregoires' spoiled daughter.
Deneulin is the owner of the Jean-Bert mine and cousin of Monsieur Gregoire, though less well-off than the Gregoires. He ends up in a financially unstable position after having updated all the equipment in his mine.
Monsieur Hennebeau is the manager of the mine. He is generally depressed, jealous of the sexual freedom that the miners have, has issues with his wife, and is troubled by the strike.
Madame Hennebeau is the wife of Monsieur Hennebeau. She is abusive, controlling, and has an affair with Negrel.
Pluchart is a high-profile revolutionary, socialist leader whom Etienne greatly admires and invites to speak to the strikers. He eventually connects the miners to the international communist party.
Maigrat is a creepy, cheap, and sometimes harsh grocery store owner. He often asked for sexual favors from the Montsou women as payment for his loans.
Germinal Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Germinal is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.