Study Guide

Madame Raquin in Thérèse Raquin

By Émile Zola

Madame Raquin

Are You Sure This Book Isn't About Me?

Overprotective and manipulative, Madame Raquin is a bit of an acquired taste. She's the mastermind behind Thérèse and Camille's marriage, which she sees as advantageous for her son. But she really only agrees to the marriage because she thinks it will be beneficial for her.

During the first half of the novel, Mme Raquin comes off as mostly controlling and unfeeling, particularly toward Thérèse.

The old gal does kind of pull at our heartstrings when she learns of her son's death, though. The shock of Camille's death produces a painful physical deterioration; Mme Raquin slowly weakens until she eventually has a stroke.

For the rest of the story, she is both paralyzed and mute. As a result, she is unable to avenge her son's murder.

Trapped in Silence

Mme Raquin's big defining moment occurs in Chapter 27, when she momentarily regains her ability to write and tries to expose Laurent and Thérèse as the murderers of her son. There's a whole lot of suspense built up around this scene, as Mme Raquin slowly writes letters on the table with her finger.

Sadly, her hand stiffens before she's able to complete her sentence.

It is worth noting here that, unlike Camille, Laurent, and Thérèse, Mme Raquin does seem to have willpower. Compare this moment to Laurent's attempt to stop painting Camille's face. While Laurent is unable to control his hand, Madame does manage to do something with her paralyzed hand.

But after the failed writing scene, Madame Raquin never regains her ability to communicate. An important shift occurs in the way she is presented for the remainder of the novel. Once she loses her speech, she turns into an object.

She's not a person anymore.

The narrator no longer tells us what she's thinking or feeling. And Thérèse and Laurent start acting as if she's not even there. What do you think her character reveals about the relationship between language and identity?