Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Who is most to blame for Camille's murder, Thérèse or Laurent?

    The case for Laurent is fairly straightforward; after all, he is the one who strangles Camille, and he expresses none of the anxieties and second thoughts that Thérèse expresses at the scene of the murder. But there are also good, incriminating arguments to be made for Thérèse. For one thing, Thérèse's long-lasting resentment and feelings of entrapment give her stronger motives for wanting Camille gone; for another, Thérèse seems to have given Laurent the idea of murder in the first place. In the end, both Thérèse and Laurent suffer the same consequences for the murder, no matter who may be more culpable than the other.

  2. 2

    Careful descriptions and specific locations are crucial to Zola's writing style. What important roles, in the narrative as a whole, do Zola's settings and places play?

    As a writer with analytic or "scientific" ambitions, Zola would certainly have placed great emphasis on precise evidence about society and psychology. This is one convincing explanation for his minute depictions of Paris; indeed, such close descriptions would show the nuances of how Laurent, Thérèse, and the other characters react to and are formed by their surroundings. Yet the novel also depicts characters who seem trapped in their own lives, unable to escape the minutiae around them. Zola's close descriptions may also be a way of indicating that Thérèse and Laurent have no choice but to stay in place, obsessed over tiny details. Zola's naturalist theme can be extrapolated from his description of the characters' environment. The grimy alleyway the Raquins call home and the tiny garret Laurent occupies indicate the characters' interior lives and stifle their choices, which culminates in the dismal nature of their crime.

  3. 3

    What factors explain Thérèse's early disgust with Camille, and her early attraction to Laurent? Are Thérèse's reactions to these men wholly expected?

    As Zola clearly indicates, Thérèse is disgusted by Camille's tired and passionless nature, and is drawn to Laurent's aura of health, manliness, and independence. Life with Camille is one long, dull routine, while Laurent's presence promises the excitement and uncertainty of adultery. However, there is one odd similarity between Camille and Laurent: they are both lazy and self-indulgent men, devoid of large ambitions. Instead of being the ideal mate for the wild yet repressed Therese, Laurent may simply be the best of the bad options that Thérèse has.

  4. 4

    How well does Thérèse Raquin fit the theory of writing that Zola sets forward in his "Preface"? Keep in mind the possibility that the work deviates sharply from Zola's declared or presumed principles.

    In the "Preface", Zola presents his writing as an almost scientific pursuit. Though sex, murder, and psychological anguish enter the novel with ease, Zola sees these themes as necessary to his project of mapping two different temperaments under a state of stress. The precise descriptions and unflinching approach to the human body in Thérèse Raquin align very well with the aims of the "Preface". But one could also make the case that the elements of fantasy and the supernatural in Thérèse Raquin defeat Zola's "scientific" approach and turn the novel into more of a symbolic tale, or into a fable with the lesson that "crime doesn't pay."

  5. 5

    Are self-destruction and suicide the only possible results of the murder that Thérèse and Laurent commit? Do any other fates for the two accomplices seem plausible?

    Zola certainly attempts to establish that there is only one logical outcome for Thérèse and Laurent. As the novelist depicts them, the two lovers are drawn to one another by instinctive, animalistic forces that they cannot control and that they don't fully understand. So they may, in fact, be inevitably bound to one another. Yet it is also possible to find points where Thérèse Raquin suggests other possibilities for its protagonists. What if Laurent's studio model hadn't left him for another lover? What if Thérèse had struck up a real acquaintance with the local student? We'll never know.

  6. 6

    Why does Zola focus on the Thursday guests throughout the narrative?

    Here, there are a few possibilities. In terms of the narrative, the Thursday guests help the reader to understand why Therese is so disgusted with the world around her; the kind of hate and boredom that she feels for Camille and Laurent is multiplied, and projected onto even more grotesque figures. Yet Zola was also famous for humorous character sketches and for satirizing pretentious and petty social types. Characters like the stuck-up Olivier and the hapless Grivet allowed Zola to indulge his taste for travesty, and add comic relief to an otherwise bleak novel.

  7. 7

    Which character undergoes the most radical changes in the course of Thérèse Raquin: Thérèse, Laurent, Mme Raquin, or someone else entirely?

    Thérèse is a good and somewhat obvious candidate for the character who changes the most. She begins the novel with repressed feelings of passion and wildness; by the end, the repression is gone, and those feelings are fully manifested in murder, adultery, and her harrowing suicide. Laurent's shift from a lazy young man to a man capable of great art, but tortured by inner demons, makes him a fair contender. Yet Mme Raquin is not to be underestimated, either; after starting off the novel as a solicitous and commonplace woman, she ends Thérèse Raquin as a symbol of vengeance and a figure of terrifying insight.

  8. 8

    Though the novel is entitled Thérèse Raquin, Laurent's perspective is a major part of the writing; in fact, his viewpoint often seems to be prioritized over Thérèse's. Why did Zola focus so much on Laurent?

    As a male author setting out upon his career, Zola may simply have been uncertain of how to enter the perspective of a young woman like Thérèse. Laurent, in contrast, has some remarkable similarities to the real-life Zola: an interest in painting, provincial roots, and an inability to make much of himself in traditional jobs. But Laurent also moves the narrative along in ways that Thérèse never really does. He initiates the affair, he strangles Camille to death, and he, thus, can reasonably be construed as the more crucial character with the more essential viewpoint. Depending on which character you believe has primacy, the title can be considered as both a nod to the protagonist, or a reference to what destroys the protagonist.

  9. 9

    What is the significance of Mme Raquin's paralysis? In addition to explaining the importance of this condition for creating tension and intrigue, try to explain a few of the symbolic meanings that paralysis takes in Thérèse Raquin.

    Mme Raquin's immobility is a literal manifestation of one of the novel's main themes. Paralysis affects the other characters psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, from Camille's laziness and predictability to the entrapment and helplessness that Thérèse and Laurent feel after their murder. But paralysis plays a paradoxical role in Mme Raquin's life. Once she is unable to move, Mme Raquin begins to think in a way that is more apt and agile, and understands facts that she couldn't comprehend when all her abilities were intact.

  10. 10

    What role, if any, do questions of morality play in Thérèse Raquin?

    It can be argued that Zola successfully avoids moral questions; there is no direct commentary on whether Camille's murder was justified or not, and Thérèse and Laurent die in the novel's last paragraphs, without a moralizing epilogue. Yet Zola is not totally immune to ethical possibilities. After all, Thérèse herself brings a moral element into the novel with her outbursts - or mockery - of repentance and sorrow. And Thérèse Raquin as a whole can be read as an illustration of a rather simple ethical lesson: that crime, ultimately, doesn't pay.