Summary and Analysis
After throwing both Count Muffat and Steiner out, Nana takes up living with the actor Fontan. She sells as much as she can and slips away to elude all of her creditors. Fontan adds seven thousand francs to the ten thousand that Nana brings and they find an apartment which they will share together. Nana begins to feel that she is in a "rapture of love," and she delights in this new sacrifice she is making for a man whom she adores.
After three weeks, she meets Francis, her former hairdresser, who tells her how much she is missed in the old neighborhood. She also learns that Count Muffat is now having an affair with Rose Mignon. Nana has a moment's regret but then remembers her "idyllic" life with Fontan and returns home to tell him with amusement about the news she has just heard.
While attending the Italian Theater one evening, Fontan is charmed by a new actress in the troupe. Nana ridicules the actress and that night a quarrel ensues. After Nana complains about some cake crumbs in the bed and tries for the second time to get out, Fontan slaps her so hard that she feels dazed. At first Nana resents this brutality, but after a few minutes, she even respects him for treating her in such a manner.
From this point on, however, their life together undergoes a drastic change; Fontan now slaps and beats her frequently. Sometimes, "he would force her against the wall and talk of strangling her," but this makes her love him more. When Fontan starts staying out more and more, Nana relieves her loneliness by renewing her association with Satin. She is never allowed to bring Satin to her place because Fontan has forbidden Nana to bring any prostitutes into the apartment.
One day, Satin takes Nana to meet Madame Robert, a lady whom Nana considers respectable and discreet, but the lady is not at home. Nana offers to take Satin the following day to a restaurant she has heard about. The restaurant is filled with women who are looking for other women. Suddenly, Madame Robert appears, and while Nana is occupied observing something else, Satin leaves with this lady. Nana is disgusted at the idea of a respectable lady acting as Madame Robert did.
That night, Fontan writes a letter to Georges for Nana. He has always amused himself by writing Nana's love letters, but that night, Nana does not respond correctly to his efforts and another argument begins. Fontan demands to see how much money there is left in their joint account. When he discovers that it is less than seven thousand, he decides to keep it all. Nana reminds him that she put ten thousand into the undertaking, but Fontan only beats her severely as a rejoinder. From that day onward, he gives her only three francs a day with which to buy groceries. Then, after a while, he even forgets to give her this paltry amount. Consequently, when Nana meets Madame Tricon one day by accident, she begins to accept side visits from customers. By this device, she is able to buy good meals for Fontan, and as a result of degrading herself to support him, she begins to love him even more.
When she meets Satin again, Satin will not tolerate Nana's reproaches about living with Madame Robert. Satin "merely replied that if one did not like something, that was no reason for trying to make others become disgusted with it." After this meeting, Nana and Satin begin walking the streets picking up men at random.
One day while looking for a customer, Nana is almost caught by the police. She then develops a great fear of being arrested. Then, one night when she comes home, she finds herself locked out of the apartment.
Fontan threatens to strangle her if she does not go away. Going to Satin's house, she soon discovers that Satin has also been thrown out of her lodgings. The two women take a room in a cheap hotel, where Satin begins to kiss and soothe Nana, who gradually begins to respond to Satin's caresses. At two o'clock in the morning, the police raid the hotel, but Nana escapes by hiding on a grating outside the window. The next morning, she goes to her aunt, who welcomes her home and anticipates a better fortune for them all now that Nana has regained her senses.
Chapter 8 presents a change and a climax in the career of Nana. She tries to discard her old life and accept the position of the humble and obedient housewife only to discover that she cannot hold a man on such terms. Her success lies in dominating a man. Fontan, who has a reputation of stinginess, offers to contribute half of his share of the expenses, but when Nana has spent her portion, he takes all of his back. He is the only man in the novel whom Nana does not dominate, and the irony is that he is the only person whom Nana wants to accept as equal.
It is furthermore ironic that Nana with her beautiful body should choose a man who is as grotesque as is Fontan and that she allows herself to be treated more brutally than she treats her own victims. This experience will solidify Nana's views that all men are dreadful and deserve any treatment that they get from the hands of a woman.
This chapter also presents Nana's initial introduction in the world of lesbianism. As Fontan beats her brutally and refuses to have anything to do with her, she begins to seek some type of consolation elsewhere. The irony here is that Nana is determined to be faithful to Fontan in spite of his brutality. Her associations, therefore, with Satin become a type of outlet from the beatings. At first Nana is horrified by the idea of lesbianism and — consistent with her earlier views — is disgusted with respectable people who debauch themselves. Satin justifies herself simply by saying "that there was no use arguing about tastes, because you never know what you might like some day." And later Satin remarks: "If one did not like something, that was no reason for trying to make others become disgusted with it." At this point, Nana cannot afford to argue about this statement because she is now being beaten by a man, and she continues to live with him and apparently enjoys the beating to a certain degree.
At the beginning of the chapter, Nana has hoped to be completely true to Fontan. Ironically, however, as he beats her and refuses to give her money, she must stoop to streetwalking and assignations with Madame Tricon in order to pay for Fontan's food. The perverseness of her nature is further illustrated by the fact that as she sells herself to anyone in the streets so as to support Fontan, whom she loves more and more.
The end of this chapter parallels the ending of the preceding chapter in that earlier Nana had impetuously thrown Muffat and Steiner out of her apartment, and she now finds herself thrown out of her apartment because Fontan is sleeping with another actress. This final act against Nana causes her to throw herself into the arms of Satin. Nana then experiences her first lesbian relationship.
Chapter 8, therefore, is filled with every type of corruption. Zola shows the sadism involved in Fontan's beating Nana; he depicts the fear of police and the anguish faced by women who must walk the streets looking for paying customers, and finally, he introduces the readers to all types of lesbian gathering places and shows Nana being converted to lesbian love. The chapter ends with Nana at the nadir of her career, afraid of the police, without a place to live, and having to start life over again.