The story spans 15 years. In the beginning, Gervaise is a lovely young mother with 2 kids. Her lover Lantier is about to leave her for another woman. Perhaps this is sad, but when we reach the end of story, we know that she is better off without any man. Soon she marries Coupeau, a roofer; and it all seems very well and they begin to be able to save money. Then comes the accident, where Coupeau falls from the roof and Gervaise spends all the savings to give him better treatment. The long rest makes Coupeau lazy and he prefers to spend his days at drinking dens instead of working.
Meanwhile, Gervaise's friend, Goujet, lends her money to rent a shop. Gervaise's dream is to have her own laundry shop, which is doing well until Lantier comes back to her life and makes friends with Coupeau. Coupeau offers Lantier to stay with them and he accepts. Gervaise now has to work to feed her children and 2 idle men. Slowly, she becomes devastated and neglects her works. She loses her costumers and finally, also, the laundry. Then she joins her husband in the drinking dens.
The presence of Lantier in their house makes Gervaise not faithful to her husband. It's not that she does it easily, but when she comes home and finds Coupeau lying in his own vomit and there is stains on their bed, why doesn't she accept Lantier's offer to sleep on his clean bed? Surrounded by unkind people, like Coupeau's mother, sister, and brother-in-law, Gervaise doesn't get good advice she needs. They never give her strength. She is distressed and doesn't care about her being and surrounding, and it leads to her downfall. What once was a lovely laundress who owned a beautiful shop, dies in poverty, alone and hungry.