Therese Raquin tells the story of a young woman, unhappily married to her first cousin by an overbearing aunt who may seem to be well-intentioned but in many ways is deeply selfish. Thérèse's husband, Camille, is sickly and egocentric, and when the opportunity arises, Thérèse enters into a turbulent and sordidly passionate affair with one of Camille's friends, Laurent.
Throughout the book there are constant references to chains, cages, tombs, and pits. These motifs contribute to the fact that Laurent and Therese are always in a state of remorse and they are plagued by their guilt for killing Camille. The book mentions how Therese and Laurent are always clawing at the chains that bound them together trying to break free. Also, the store that Therese owns is compared to a tomb, where Therese watches the corpses walk by in the day, and she feels that she will never leave her tomb.