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Synopsis

The novel's central character is …tienne Lantier, previously seen in L'Assommoir (1877), a young migrant worker who arrives at the forbidding coalmining town of Montsou in the bleak far north of France to earn a living as a miner. Sacked from his previous job on the railways for assaulting a superior - he befriends the veteran miner Maheu, who finds him somewhere to stay and gets him a job pushing the carts down the pit. …tienne is portrayed as a hard-working idealist but also a naïve youth; Zola's genetic theories come into play as …tienne is presumed to have inherited his Macquart ancestors' traits of hotheaded impulsiveness and an addictive personality capable of exploding into rage under the influence of drink or strong passions.

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