Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Germinal takes its title, first, from the Revolutionary calendar’s spring event of 12 Germinal 1795, when the starving populace invaded the National Assembly and demanded bread. Similarly, the miners and their womenfolk act accordingly in one of the novel’s most famous and most stirring passages (part 5, chapter 5). Second, by continuing nature’s cycle, spring is also symbolic of rebirth and fecundity after months of sterility and death.
Dismissed from his position as a mechanic because of his socialistic ideas, Étienne Lantier (of the Macquart line) arrives in the bleak March landscape of the coal-mining district to start work in the pits, despite his lack of underground experience. Zola masterfully uses Étienne’s naïveté regarding his new milieu to educate him and the reader about this forsaken world and people. Since their wages are so low, the miners, regardless of age or gender, have traditionally eked out a miserable existence. Now, however, because of overproduction and the subsequent drop in coal prices, the company wants to impose an even lower tonnage fee. Lantier convinces his coworkers to strike rather than capitulate as they have often done in the past. For its part, the company expects to crush the strike through hunger.
When violence and sabotage occur, the army arrives to restore order, resulting in numerous deaths and acts of revenge. The food provider Maigrat is savagely mutilated, a soldier is murdered...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Étienne Lantier sets out to walk from Marchiennes to Montsou looking for work. On the way, he meets Vincent Maheu, another workman, called Bonnemort because of successive escapes from death in the mines. Nearing sixty years old, Bonnemort suffers a bad cough because of particles of dust from the mine pits. Bonnemort has a son whose family consists of seven children. Zacharie, the eldest son, twenty-one years old, Catherine, sixteen years old, and Jeanlin, eleven years old, work in the mines. In the morning, as they are dressing, they listened to the sounds of Levaque leaving the next-door apartment. Soon afterward, Bouteloup joins the Levaque woman. Philomène Levaque, the eldest daughter and Zacharie’s mistress, coughs from her lung ailment. Such is the life of those who work in the mine pits.
Étienne is given a job in the mine. He descends the mine shaft along with Maheu, Zacharie, Chaval, Levaque, and Catherine. At first Étienne mistakes the last for a boy. During lunchtime, Chaval roughly forces the girl to kiss him. This act angers Étienne; the girl insists that the brute is not her lover. The head captain, Dansaert, comes with Monsieur Négrel, Monsieur Hennebeau’s nephew, to inspect Étienne, the new worker. There is bitterness among the workers, danger lurking in the shafts, and so little pay that it is hardly worth working. Étienne, however, decides to stay in the mine.
M. Grégoire inherited from his grandfather a share in...
(The entire section is 1345 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
Étienne Lantier walks along the highway which cuts through a field of beets. It is a vast horizon, and the March winds sweep through him in bitterly cold gusts. He has been walking for an hour, since two o’clock this morning, and his threadbare clothes are not keeping him warm. He holds a small bundle under his arm so he can put his numb, chapped hands deep in his pockets. Homeless and out of work, Lantier’s only thought is that it might be warmer when the sun rises.
He has been walking for an hour, from Marchiennes to Montsou, when the glow of three fires off to his left attracts him; they seem to be hovering in mid-air. He is apprehensive but cannot resist the need to warm his hands. He follows a sunken path next to a rustic fence for about two hundred paces until the path turns abruptly and he faces the suspended flames; however, his attention is drawn to the ground below. Lantier sees the outline of a factory whose windows are covered with grime, allowing only a few gleams of light to shine through. Several tall trestles rise to the sky, wreathed in smoke and darkness; the “deep gasps of puffing steam” are the only sounds he hears.
It is a coal mine, and now he can see the movement of men as they transport and empty their trains full of coal. He knows it will be futile to ask for work, so he climbs to the top of the spoil-heap where three braziers are burning. He introduces himself to the driver, who is keeping warm while he waits for his load to be emptied, and asks if there is work for a mechanic. There is not. When Lantier asks about the mine, the old, rheumatic driver has a violent fit of coughing and spits a black blob onto the ground. When he can answer, the driver says this is a coal mine, Le Voreux, and shows Lantier the nearby miners’ village before plodding away with his horse and empty cart.
Lantier had seen the tops of these buildings as he was walking; now, as he warms his hands, he can see the outlines of the pit below him, looking like a gigantic, voracious beast. He thinks about his vagrant life over the past week, ever since he lost his job (because he hit his boss) in the railway workshop in Lille. Everywhere he asked for work, he was turned away; Lantier has nothing and does not know what to do or where to go next.
The old driver returns, coughing and spitting, and Lantier asks if there are any factories in Montsou, There were three or four once, and the town was...
(The entire section is 803 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary
The mining village, called Two Hundred and Forty, is row upon row of barrack-looking buildings, sleeping under the still-black sky. The Maheus’ house is Number Sixteen and inside, the darkness crushes all who sleep. It reeks of the heavy smell of the “human herd.” When the cuckoo clock strikes four, there is no movement; then Catherine arises, lights a match, and falls back onto the bed in her weariness.
The candlelight shows the stark room filled only with necessaries: three beds, a wardrobe, a table and chairs, clothing on hooks on the wall, and a washbasin and jug. Zacharie, the oldest at twenty-one, sleeps next to Jeanlin, who is almost eleven. In another bed are Lénore and Henrie (six and four), and Catherine shares the third bed with her nine-year-old sister Alzire, a girl so small that Catherine only knows she is in bed because of the sickly girl’s hunchback digging into her. Their parents sleep in a fourth bed in the alcove, next to which is a cradle where three-month-old Estelle sleeps.
Catherine is thin with long, red hair and looks anemic; her gray eyes water as her exhausted and fatigued body strives to stay awake. From his bed, her father scolds her for dancing all day yesterday and rumbles at her to hurry before he falls back to sleep. She wakes up the two oldest boys, who also do not want to get up, by stripping the sheet off their bed. Zacharie is a gangly boy with the same sallow skin as the rest of his family; Jeanlin will not get out of bed, so Catherine scoops him up. His joints are swollen with scrofula, but he tries to wriggle himself free.
Catherine is the first one dressed and ready. She wears the clothing of a miner, her female form hidden under her pants and jacket. Their grandfather works nights, and when he comes home he will sleep in the bed the boys just vacated. Neighbors are now waking up, as well; the walls are so thin and they all live so close that nothing is private. The Levaques live next door, and Philomène is coughing. She is their oldest daughter and Zacharie’s girlfriend who has already borne him two children. Zacharie is disgusted that Philomène gets to sleep until six o’clock. People in the rooms all around them routinely spend their nights—and days—with people other than their own husbands and wives.
Baby Estelle begins to scream and finally Maheu is forced to get up. He and his wife (La Maheude) worry about money, something they never...
(The entire section is 745 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary
Each time Lantier asks one of the Le Voreux workers if there is any work to be had, they tell him no but to wait for Monsieur Dansaert, the overman. He wanders around the mine, absorbing the sights and sounds of a working coal mine until he is nearly crushed by enormous weights fixed to churning cables.
He watches the noisy, dark, dirty, repetitious, and complex workings of the mine. One thing he does understand is that the pit routinely swallows twenty or thirty miners at a time, and it does so with great ease. Each of the workers comes out of the changing room barefoot and holding a lamp; groups of five or so silently climb into empty coal carts on one of four tiers of the cage. Someone shouts that a “meat load” is coming and the cage descends fife hundred and fifty-four meters; if the cable breaks, it would be a disaster. The cage tirelessly returns to the surface and delivers the next batch of human workers to the dark bowels of the mine.
Lantier feels a sudden sense of panic and walks away from the pit; he passes another group of workers, the Maheus. He asks if there is any work; Catherine bows her head no as they keep walking. Maheu is struck at the image of this man with no work and reminds his family and fellow workers to be thankful that they, at least, have jobs. Not everyone is as fortunate.
The Maheus enter the changing room where workers are gathered around the huge fires, soaking up the warmth before having to descend into the dank mines. One woman, La Mouquette, is obscenely endowed in bosom and buttocks and is sexually indiscriminate; she is the topic of this morning’s jocularity. She endures all the joking until one of them suggests she was with a nailer from another town; she would never consider having sex with anyone but a colliery worker.
The news that a worker, Fleurance, has died in her sleep is bad news for Maheu. He is paid based on production, and losing her will certainly slow down his production. Suddenly he thinks of Lantier and asks the overman if he can hire him, using as his argument that Dansaert is always trying to replace female workers with able-bodied males. The overman smiles, thinking about how worried workers usually are that their daughters will not be able to work the mines, but he agrees. Catherine runs to get the man, and he thanks her (though he thinks she is a boy) profusely before going with her to the changing room.
Maheu tells Lantier...
(The entire section is 779 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary
The hewers are in place, one above the other: Zacharie on the bottom, then Levaque, then Chaval, and finally Maheu, who has it the worst. The men are standing on wooden planks which are there to stop the coal from falling after they cut it. As they dig, the coal drops to the boards and the men eventually disappear into the clefts they have created.
Maheu digs in thirty-five degrees with no air circulation. In order to see, he must place his lantern right next to his head, which causes his temperature to rise to fever levels. Between the water trickling down from underground springs and his sweat, he is quickly steaming like a washtub. The water drips consistently in one place; today it is his eye, but there is no avoiding it.
No one speaks; all Lantier hears are the tappings of miners. There are no echoes in the airless space and it is insufferably dark. Zacharie is tired and claims some timbering must be done, giving him time to rest. Despite their digging thirty meters into the seam, the men have not taken any precautions and shore up the rock. They are both careless of the danger and jealous of their time.
Lantier is a “putter”; he cuts notches in the roof and wall and wedges large pieces of wood into the ledge to brace the ceiling for the hewers. Each night, shifters come to collect the rubble left by the hewers at the end of each tunnel.
Maheu has finally mined his block of coal and now sees that Zacharie has climbed in behind him to prop the roof. His father tells him to stop that and keep cutting or they will not make their quota, heedless of his son’s warning that the roof is sagging. Maheu is unconcerned; it has happened before and they have survived. Catherine keeps instructing Lantier how to use his shovel most effectively.
A full coal car is hauled to the surface, evaluated, and weighed so the appropriate credit can be given to each mining team. If the cars are full or the coal is not clean, the checkweighman will not record it. Lantier’s eyes are adjusting to the dark and he is able to see Catherine as she works efficiently and with amazing strength. He is bruised and cut and often needs assistance as he struggles to keep the car he is loading on the rails. Catherine shows him how to bend over in order to use the full leverage of hips, arms, and shoulders. It is a staggering weight for such a diminutive girl to move, but she does it without complaint. He is unable to...
(The entire section is 800 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary
Maheu asks Zacharie if he has finished. While the boy had timbered for a time, he has been daydreaming and now has to come back to the present; he says it will hold for now and they can check again tomorrow.
They take a break, and Chaval complains that the Company never takes into account coal found in the hard-to-work-with loose earth when they establish the pay rates. Maheu is more reasonable and points out that the terrain changes every twenty meters and it would be impossible to know in advance what the hewers might find. They are careful not to complain too loudly, for even this far under the earth they are afraid they might be overheard and reported by informers.
Chaval shouts that he will throw a brick at the overman if he speaks to him rudely again, and they all joke about the overman’s open affair with Pierron’s wife. Maheu warns Chaval to save that kind of talk for when he is not with him and his family; he is still talking when young Negrel, the engineer, and the overman appear in front of them.
Amiable and intellectual, Paul Négrel is a ferret-faced twenty-six-year-old who dresses like the workers and often performs foolhardy acts trying to command their respect. They are here to see Lantier; after examining Lantier in silence, Négrel says okay this time, but they are not to make a habit of hiring men off the streets. Négrel is appalled at how poorly the timbering has been done in this seam. The roof is already buckling and an accident seems imminent; he berates them for not being willing to leave the seam long enough to take the proper precautions, demanding that they timber the roof properly.
When it is obvious the workers are not going to obey his command, he reminds them that they are not the ones who will have to answer to their families and the Company if something goes wrong. Their greed is going to get them killed. Maheu calmly says that if they were properly paid they would do better timbering. Négrel says they have one hour left to do as he asked and he is fining them three francs.
The men are all upset but do not speak; most outraged of all is Lantier. Being down in this “hell-hole” has caused a great resistance to grow in him. He realizes it is possible that people can work themselves to death doing this terrible work and still not make enough money for bread.
Négrel points out that they have placed the timbers to hold only long enough for...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary
Cramped in a tub, Lantier decides to continue looking for work, leaving the mine far behind him. It would be better to die of hunger quickly than to die a slow, painful death underground. He thinks of Catherine but knows that he must not. Lantier has more education than the others and does not share their sheep-like resignation; it is likely that he would end up “strangling the life out of one boss or another.”
Lantier is suddenly blinded, stunned by the quick ascent to the daylight. The cage empties quickly as workers streaming out of their tubs. Chaval goes immediately to see how much coal they had been credited with today. Furious, he returns and says two tubs were returned: one was not the regulation weight and one contained dirty coal. He grumbles about everything but blames Lantier. Maheu reminds him it was Lantier’s first day and he will improve. Chaval is not placated and they are all ready to fight.
In the changing room, the workers bask in the warmth. Catherine talks to her father; Maheu then quietly offers to get Lantier credit with some locals, as he may starve until he gets paid. Lantier is not sure how to respond, as he was planning to ask for his thirty sou and leave. Now he considers staying because of Catherine, though he knows it is foolish, and offers no objection to the idea.
As they leave the changing room, they are stopped by an argument between two women who are fighting over the coal they are shoveling into the rail cars below them. One is Philoméne Levaque, Zacharie’s eighteen-year-old girlfriend; when Zacharie laughs at their fighting, the other woman turns on him and tells him he should claim the two children he gave the sickly Philoméne. Maheu stops his son from going to fight her.
As the workers leave, their second-shift counterparts are going in, for the mine is never idle. Maheu’s family parts at the public house; Catherine looks at Lantier with her pretty green eyes before walking home. Maheu takes Lantier into The Advantage, a small, stark bar with only a few drink choices and a few tables. Maheu orders a drink without offering one to Lantier and asks for Rasseneur, the landlord.
Rasseneur is a large man, thirty-eight years old and a former hewer. He is articulate and was an excellent worker; he became the leader of the malcontents and was fired by the Company. Now he runs a prosperous bar right next to the mine as a constant provocation. It...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary
The Grégoire property, La Piolaine, is two kilometers from Montsou. It was once part of a grand estate, but it is now smaller, surrounded by walls enclosing the orchard and kitchen garden. The fruits and vegetables grown here are known as the finest in the region. The avenue of foliage, three hundred meters long, is a visible landmark on an empty, barren plain.
This morning the Grégoires are up at eight o’clock, an hour earlier than usual, because an overnight storm has made them restless. He goes out to check for any damage, and she comes to the kitchen in her gown and slippers. She is a plump fifty-eight-year-old with a baby face and a continual look of surprise. She tells their cook of thirty years to start the brioche so Mademoiselle Cécile can have some with her chocolate when she gets up later. Honorine, a twenty-year-old girl raised since childhood by the Grégoires, is now a housemaid and will help the cook. The only other servants are Francis the coachman, who does the heavy work, and a gardener and his wife, who tend everything else.
The kitchen is warm and “overflowing with provisions.” Leon Grégoire, a kindly sixty-year-old with curly white hair, reports no major damage from the storm. This family is used to living a quiet but quite comfortable life, and even the servants dote on the daughter. Cécile’s indulgent parents go to watch her sleep. She is a beautiful girl, and even more so to her parents who waited so long to have her.
Their fortune of forty thousand francs per year is derived solely from their holding in the mines. At the end of the last century, there was a frenzy to find coal. Baron Desrumaux was the most persevering miner, prospecting for forty years despite formidable obstacles and setbacks. He finally established Desrumaux, Fauquenoix and Company in Montsou. The pits were just beginning to yield scant returns when two neighboring concessions nearly ruined him with their competition. On August 25, 1760, the three companies merged to become The Montsou Mining Company. The total capital for the enterprise was nearly three million francs. Desrumaux was near death but victorious, and his share was significant.
At the time, Desrumaux owned La Piolaine and plenty of surrounding land and his steward was Honore Grégoire, the great-grandfather of Cecile’s father. Honoré had saved fifty thousand francs and, with great trepidation, bought a share of the company based...
(The entire section is 824 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary
All is quiet in the Maheu household after the workers leave—except for the snoring of Bonnemort, the children’s grandfather, home from his night at the mine. There is a flurry of activity in the quarters as the women who work in the screening-shed leave for work at six o’clock. Silence reigns until seven; then the sound of slapping and screaming through the partition walls wakes Alize and she hurries to wake her mother who has overslept.
La Maheude gets herself ready and Alize both calms baby Estelle and breaks up the fights between six-year-old Lenore and four-year-old Henri as she dresses them, trying not to wake their grandfather. La Maheude gathers the last meager supplies for some breakfast and knows she has to get some money from the rich family or the rest of her family will have nothing to eat when they return from the mines. The three children have something to eat; their mother settles for hot water with a slight coffee flavor. Around them, children are leaving for school and women are gossiping. La Maheude and the two children begin walking; there is mud everywhere and the two children are intent on playing with it in some form. After they have both been smacked into obedience, the children struggle to walk through the mire.
They walk a path connecting one industrial town seamlessly to the next. Several detached houses distinguish themselves from the barrack-type buildings, and there is even a church. What is most notable, though, are the dance halls, taverns, and beer halls—five hundred of them for every thousand houses. They pass the large home of Hennebeau, the mine manager, and then reach Maigrat’s shop. Maigrat once had a modest shop but has been quite successful because the Company built his home and shop, but the Company owns him.
Maigrat is a fat little man who prides himself on never changing his mind, so when La Maheude pleads her case, he is unmoved. She has owed him sixty francs for the past two years, beginning with the mining strike and has just never had enough extra to pay him back. Maigrat begs for some bread, but he is unbending. His scrawny wife stands in the doorway, a cowering woman who is regularly forced to leave her own bed when the miners send their wives and daughters to Maigrat for credit and he sleeps with them. La Maheude leaves, warning the shopkeeper that his refusal to help will bring him bad luck.
She and her children walk to La Piolaine; she...
(The entire section is 765 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary
When Maheu finally arrives home, he sees his older children already eating without even changing clothes. Nobody ever waits for anyone else; the table is permanently set for whomever and whenever someone can eat. He sees the groceries and is relieved. He is served the best food they have as the cleanup begins. Catherine is the first to bathe openly in the small tub next to the fire; the boys follow, and all of them leave their filthy, wet clothing in a heap on the floor.
As Alzire mops up after them, her father eats his meal in silence as he prefers. Henri and Lenore hover nearby as he eats the meat, and he is annoyed because it makes him feel guilty. Though both his wife and Alzire lie and say they have all already had their meat, Maheu gives both of them some bits of his.
Jeanlin comes downstairs dressed to go out in his brother’s hand-me-downs, but his mother catches him trying to sneak out and insists he pick some dandelions for tonight’s salad. Zacharie comes downstairs next and his father admonishes him not to come home too late. The boy nods curtly and leaves. It is Maheu’s turn to bathe, and he does so in private. Alzire takes the two children outside and Catherine stays upstairs mending a dress she tore yesterday.
At last husband and wife are alone and can talk. As they both scrub him clean, she tells him how she got the food. The scrubbing takes so much effort that soon she has barely enough breath to finish her story. Maheu is warm and happy, and his wife does not want to worry him with the news that Maigrat expects payment from Catherine. All the scrubbing and rubbing makes Maheu playful, and the couple enjoys a little time alone in the house. After they are finished, he keeps his chest bare as most of the other miners do. Even in this damp weather, they now sit bare-chested on their doorsteps, as if airing their “tired workmen’s flesh.”
A relaxed Maheu tells his wife about Negrel’s anger at their timbering, and she offers her always sound advice that there is nothing to be gained by confronting the Company directly. When she tells him of Madame Hennebeau’s visit, they are both proud. Catherine comes down in a dress and bonnet; she is going to walk to town to buy a new ribbon for her bonnet with money La Mouquette promised to loan her. He mother tells her not to purchase it at Maigrat’s or he will think the Maheus have “money to burn.”
Maheu works in...
(The entire section is 581 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary
La Maheude stops on her way home to buy some potatoes from a supervisor’s wife in an area the miners call the First Estate, as opposed to their own area called Never-Never-Land. When she and the children arrive home, baby Estelle is screaming. Bonnemort snores happily through the racket.
As she feeds Estelle and begins to prepare some potatoes, La Maheude remembers the brioche the Grégoires had given them and realizes Lenore and Henri had surreptitiously eaten it on the way home. Bonnemort comes down earlier than usual to eat his meal of potatoes and coffee between his coughing and spitting. La Maheude takes a little coffee in some paper to La Pieronne, who had loaned her some a few days before, and is surprised to see Madame Hennebeau showing several well dressed guests around the village.
La Pieronne is twenty-eight and still has a shapely bust, as she has not had any children, though she has an eight-year-old stepdaughter. She keeps a sparkling home and her family eats meat twice a week; they are a happy family, despite the gossip that both of them have frequent lovers. She has good connections to the Company and has been authorized to sell sweets and biscuits from her home, earning her plenty of extra money.
The women quietly sip coffee and La Pieronne comments on the ugliness of the Levaques’ house and their disgusting behavior, surprised that La Maheude allows her son to go with their daughter. She tells her hostess that it is impossible to keep them apart, given their proximity. This is a common story: children conceived on the low, sloping roof of a shed without a care for who might see them. These couples eventually get married, and only their mothers are angry because their sons are no longer bringing in any income. La Maheude is incensed at the idea that Zacharie might leave to start his own family.
On her way home, La Maheude encounters La Levaque who says she has something to tell her. The Levaque home is grimy and smelly. Philomène’s children, Achille and Désirée, and the Levaques' boarder are there; the slatternly matron is older than Bouteloup the boarder and her services are included in his rent. They gossip about La Pieronne until they get serious and talk about Zacharie and Philomène. Neither of them wanted a marriage at first, as they will both lose income; however, with the children to feed, La Levaque wants the marriage soon.
La Maheude suggests they wait...
(The entire section is 777 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 5 Summary
At Rasseneur’s, Lantier eats and goes to sleep immediately, too exhausted even to undress. At dusk he wakes up groggy and disoriented; he walks outside for some fresh air and ends up near Le Voreux, where he sees the day shift workers filing out of the mine. He watches a woman chastise her son-in-law for not sticking up for her, and then he sees Zacharie meeting his friend Mouquet as planned but telling him he cannot come with him to the dance hall. Now Zacharie pushes a reluctant Philomène down a deserted path. She is complaining about always having to be together outside and in the damp, but he insists he has something to tell her.
When they stop, he asks her for money for his family, but she knows he plans to go out with Mouquet with it and is angry. He invites her to come along, but she has to go take care of their baby. He whines enough that she finally frees a few coins from the hem of her jacket where she hides her overtime money from her mother. As he takes them, she makes Zacharie promise to convince his mother to let them marry soon. He agrees and tickles the sickly girl until she laughs and then they go their separate ways.
Lantier sees another confrontation, this one between Jeanlin, Lydie, and his friend Bébert. Jeanlin had an idea while he was collecting dandelion greens for his mother; he gathered more than his family could eat and he sent Lydie go to the bourgeois houses to sell the greens while Bébert kept watch over her. He believes girls can sell anything they decide to sell. In a sales frenzy, they sold everything they had for eleven sous; now they argue about how to divide the money.
Jeanlin wants to keep seven for his labor and the idea; the other two do not think this is fair. Jeanlin is clearly the dominant one and he offers them two coins each, take it or not. Bébert takes his but Jeanlin withdraws his hand just as Lydie is about to take hers. He will keep it, and if she ever needs money she can ask him. Now those two begin to play “mums and dads” as they often do, though they are too young to do anything properly.
Bébert, angry because he is never allowed to touch Lydie, tells them they are being watched by Lantier. The children leave and, though he understands what motivates their actions, he is depressed by them. He walks on to Réquillart, a ruined mine, where amorous couples are having sex everywhere. The caretaker is La Mouquette’s father; La Mouquette has...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary
Lantier continues working in the pit and acclimates to the routines that had once seemed so strange. Days, weeks, and months pass by, and now he gets up at three in the morning like the rest and warms his back at the changing-room fire. He no longer notices the cables or the clanging of the cages as they ascend and descend, and he does not worry about a possible crash. He sees the same people doing the same things, and the discomforts he used to experience no longer bother him. He works hard, without complaining, and is now seen as a true miner “even as the crushing mould of daily routine gradually reduces him to the level of a machine.”
Maheu respects Lantier for his learning and ideas and his resolve to do what he must do to keep from starving. Zacharie and Levaque have accepted him, but there is a mute hostility between Lantier and Chaval because of Catherine. Though Lantier and Catherine talk openly about the things she and her lover do each night, there is an unspoken shame between them, as though there is some deep-seated reason they hate one another.
It is now spring, and the young couples are no longer confined the area behind the spoil-heap for their trysts. Lantier finds them everywhere on his walks. The only pair which upsets him is Catherine and Chaval. On the evenings after he has come across them he prefers to spend his time at Rasseneur’s bar, The Advantage. That is where he meets Souvarine, a thirty-year-old Russian mechanic who rents the room next to his.
Souvarine is a nobleman’s son who had been part of the “socialist fervor” and decided to learn a trade so he could interact with the common people until he was forced into hiding by an assassination attempt on the Tsar. He is a sober, reliable worker, free of any entanglements. Tonight Lantier tells the uncommunicative Souvarine he has received another letter from his friend Pluchart, the mechanic he had known in Lille. Pluchart has been writing Lantier (“indoctrinating him”) in hopes of his establishing a workers’ union. Rebellious by nature, Lantier finds the idea of improving the workers’ lives at the expense of the careless, carefree owners. He has seen first-hand that the men in his mines are ready to strike over the timbering issue.
More pragmatic, Souvarine dismisses the idea as foolishness and Rasseneur suggests the fees each miner would have to pay will keep them from joining any organization. All three...
(The entire section is 780 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 2 Summary
The last Sunday in July is a celebration day in Montsou and the entire village is eager to get there. Every miner’s house has been meticulously cleaned and the heat is oppressive. By eleven o’clock, the house smells delicious and the family eats at noon; it is a rare and sumptuous feast for them.
The Maheus have not been speaking to their neighbors, the Levaques, for the past three weeks over Zacharie and Philomene not getting married. After the meal, family members begin to leave. Maheu goes to find Levaque but ends up listening to La Levaque screaming her disgust at having to take care of Philomene’s children while Philomene and Zacharie continue to “roll around in the hay” at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, the village gradually empties until only the women and infants remain, and they gather around dinner tables and drink coffee. Maheu finds Levaque, Grandpa Bonnemort, and old Mouque behind Rasseneur’s bar playing or watching a game of skittles. Lantier is sitting at a table in a thin strip of shade drinking a beer. Souverine has left to write or read alone, as he does most Sundays.
Amid the cheers and laughter of a good play, La Mouquette appears and the men tease her about being alone—for once. Lantier joins in the banter, and he is the one La Mouquette is interested in, though he says she is fun but he does not “fancy her in the slightest.” She finally walks away with a pained expression on her face.
Lantier talks quietly to Maheu about establishing a provident fund for any urgent needs miners might have, reminding the older man that the Company has said they can do so. It is a sensible thing to have a mutual aid association as a backup to the Company’s changeable pensions. After Lantier gives the details and promises to do all the difficult work himself, Maheu is persuaded but Lantier will have to convince the others.
The men make their way to Montsou, stopping along the way to greet friends and drink beer until Levaque suggests they go to the Volcano, a bar and home-base for prostitutes. Here Lantier corners Levaque and explains his idea, but Levaque only absently says he has nothing against the idea. As they leave the Volcano, La Mouquette follows Lantier, asking him with big eyes if he will come with her, but he simply makes a joke of it.
At their next stop, Zacharie is brawling with a nailer as Chaval casually watches. He and Catherine had been...
(The entire section is 773 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary
Lantier moves in with the Maheus near the middle of August, after Zacharie married and found a house for Philomene and his children. At first, Lantier is uncomfortable living in the same house and sleeping in the same bedroom as Catherine. With virtually no privacy, Lantier sees Catherine undress, though she rushes into bed as soon as her clothes drop. Few things are hidden from any of them, but a mixture of resentment and friendship keep Lantier from treating her as a girl he desires. Catherine does bathe upstairs now while the men bathe downstairs as usual.
By the end of a month, habit has overcome the shame of their nakedness, and they often act as natural as siblings; however, at times each of them experiences a desire which frustrates them, making them irritable co-workers the next day. It is a better arrangement for Lantier than Rasseneur’s, as he gets room and board but also has his clothes washed and mended out of gratitude by La Maheude.
This is the time Lantier begins to solidify his thinking about the plight of workers and their “silent, festering resentment.” He wonders why men are rich or poor, oppressor or oppressed, and why there is little hope for change. Once he admits his ignorance, Lantier feels a deep sense of shame and sorrow. Though he feels such things passionately, he will never be able to discuss the innate principles of fairness and equality due to his ignorance.
So he begins to study, and his socialist friend Pluchart sends him books, including a medical book which outlines the various illnesses from which miners are now dying. Lantier reads anarchist pamphlets, treatises on political economy, and books on co-operative societies which cause him to dream about a moneyless society in which labor is valued. Though he is outraged at the current system, he has not yet formulated an acceptable alternative which blends Rasseneur’s practicality with Souvarine’s advocacy of violence.
As his thinking becomes more refined, Lantier grows more offended by how the people of the village are forced to live in such confinement that virtually nothing is private. It is no surprise that young people act as they do in such conditions. Maheu argues that more money would also improve everyone’s conditions and avoid the inevitable: men getting drunk and girls having babies. Neither of these, the family agrees, is ultimately satisfying. La Maheude says the worst is knowing the poverty...
(The entire section is 801 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 4 Summary
Maheu is preparing to go to Montsou to collect his paycheck and his wife asks him to purchase a few items. Maheu grumbles that money is scarcer than ever, as the Company is now using any excuse to keep them from working. La Maheude suggests he take Lantier with him so he can ensure they are being paid correctly; they can also talk to the doctor about his declaration that Bonnemort is unable to work. The old man’s legs have become numb and he has not left his chair for the past ten days. He claims the Company is simply trying to avoid paying him his well-deserved pension.
Those who live in Village Two Hundred and Forty do not get paid until four o’clock, so the men stop at Rosseneur’s for a beer. The rumors are rampant that the Company has placed a notice at the pay window; the unrest is palpable and trouble is imminent.
Souvarine calmly explains that the Company is trying to save itself and must cut its worker costs since coal is piling up while the factories are idle. The provident fund is worrisome, and the Company hopes to deplete it while it is still small. Rasseneur argues that a strike is not in either parties’ best interest and this probable cutback is in everyone’s best interest. He is generally jovial but has gotten jealous as fewer workers now come to his bar and listen to him; as a result, he often finds himself defending the very Company which fired him as a miner. His wife, on the other hand, is in favor of a strike.
Lantier’s friend Plutarch is also against a strike since the workers often suffer as much as the owners. Lantier has been unable to get even one worker to join the international Workers’ Association. He has concentrated his efforts on the provident fund, but it only has three thousand francs in it, an amount at which Rasseneur scoffs. The two men do not agree on what is best for the workers.
The Company yard in Montsou is usually festive as the miners come to get paid and vendors come to sell their goods. Today, however, the mood is somber because of the notice in the window and there is discontentment in the air; some fighting words are even exchanged. Chaval, who is now working with another group and is increasingly jealous of Lantier, leaves the pay window and is furious at the Company. When Lantier and Maheu get to the window, Lantier reads the notice aloud since so many of the miners are unable to read it.
From now on, miners will...
(The entire section is 798 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 5 Summary
A week passes as the workers sullenly do their jobs and wait for the “coming battle.” This fortnight promises to be especially tension-filled for the Maheus, as they have little money and Catherine stays out all night and comes home sick and cannot work. Chaval threatened violence and would not let her leave, certain she was being forced by her family to share Lantier’s bed.
Two days later, Jeanlin skipped work for two days, running and thieving with Bebert and Lydie. When La Maheude catches him, she thrashes him in the public square as a warning to all children; in her poverty, she can only see her children as future breadwinners.
The coal-face the Maheus are mining is hard to work and is growing wetter each day. One day a distant rumble of thunder shakes the miners and Maheu screams that it is a fall and they need to run.
In another part of the mine, Jeanlin (his bottom still red from his thrashing) is at work as he is supposed to be. He and Bebert are working with the horses, and one of them suddenly refuses to move forward through the ventilation door, sensing something is wrong. Jeanlin notices more water than usual and looks through the door, raising his lamp to see that the timbers are sagging under the weight of a seeping spring. Another minor, Chicot, walks by, anxious to get home because his wife is in labor. He also stops to look at the sagging timbering when suddenly there is an “almighty crack” and both man and the boy are buried under the rock-fall.
Miners begin working their way to the disaster through thick clouds of dust, choking as they come. Groups of workers arrive on both sides of the rock pile and it is obvious that only about ten meters of the roof have collapsed. Bebert exclaims that Jeanlin is under the rubble and Maheu is “beside himself with despair and helplessness.”
Catherine, Lydie, and La Mouquette arrive and begin screaming in terror, their screams getting louder with each groan they hear from under the rock pile. Neither Negrel the engineer nor Dansaert are down in the pit, so Richomme the deputy assumes control and determines they are the groans of a man, not a boy; there is no answer when anyone tries to talk to the two victims.
Richomme organizes the rescue quickly, and miners attack the rubble furiously from both sides. Chaval works silently alongside Zacharie, Maheu, and Lantier. Levaque reluctantly goes to tell everyone...
(The entire section is 781 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 1 Summary
The Hennebeaus were planning to have lunch with the Gregoires and their daughter Cecile; after lunch, Paul Négrel was to have taken the women on a tour of the mine. This was simply a pretext for Madame Hennebeau’s efforts to arrange a marriage between Cecile and Négrel. It has been two weeks since December 1 and there has been no sign of a strike—until today. Everyone in authority had assumed the threat of a strike was over, but at 4:00 this morning, not one single worker went to work at Le Voreux, and most of the other mines in the area are the same.
Since then, Hennebeau has been frantically wiring the owners for direction and has sent Négrel to gather more information. When he tells his spoiled wife that he cannot attend her luncheon, she says a strike does not matter to them and they still have to eat. She insists on carrying out her plan, and Hennebeau closes his face again, a disciplined man whose heart is “used to being bruised.”
Hennebeau grew up in poverty but got a fine education that served him well; he married the daughter of a rich mill owner and they lived a quiet life of monotony in the country. His wife grew resentful of their lifestyle and her husband’s having to work for a living, and they lived virtually separate lives. When he moved her to Paris, he hoped things would improve; instead they got worse, for this was the place of her childhood visions of paradise. She had a passionate affair (this one she could not hide from her husband) that nearly destroyed her. In Montsou, the Hennebeaus began living a life of irritable boredom in separate bedrooms. Hennebeau hired his nephew Négrel despite his poor academic showing and soon Négrel was having an affair with his aunt. Now she is obsessed with the idea of marrying him off to a wealthy girl.
Négrel returns from his tour of the mines and says the villages will be sending a deputation to see him; then Négrel is called upstairs by the frivolous Madame Hennebeau and there is no more news for Hennebeau. When the Gregoires arrive, they are surprised at the news of the strike. While they all socialize, Hennebeau is reading telegrams until an agitated Deneulin, the manager, arrives to report on the strike.
They have a civilized, sumptuous luncheon, but Négrel wants the curtains drawn so the workers cannot see their guests or the extravagance of this home. Deneulin says the problem is that there has been too much...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 2 Summary
Yesterday, Lantier and some others met at Rasseneur’s to choose the members of the delegation. La Maheude was distraught to learn that her husband was part of the deputation, fearful that her family would be turned out into the street. Maheu was reluctant at first, as well. Despite their crushing, unjust poverty, both have “lapsed back into their habitual state of inbred acquiescence.” At their quiet dinner table, Lantier tells Maheu they are all counting on him to be the spokesman for the group; La Maheude objects until Lantier explains why. Maheu is the best, most respected, and most popular worker in the mines and everyone sees him as having good sense; any demands the group makes will have more credibility coming from him.
The twenty-member deputation meets at The Advantage and agrees on the conditions they will present to the Company before arriving at Hennebeau’s. All have them are uncomfortable in the house, though they had all shaved and donned their best clothes before coming. They spend five minutes in this sumptuous room, successfully insulated from anything in the outside world, before Hennebeau enters and stiffly asks them to be seated so they can talk.
A few sit, but most stand rather than sit on the embroidered silk fabrics. Hennebeau rolls his chair in front of the fireplace and looks for a familiar face among the men. He sees Pierron and then asks Lantier what the men have come to tell him. Hennebeau is surprised to see Maheu step forward; he says Maheu has always been such a loyal and reasonable worker and he hates seeing him associated with such troublemakers. Maheu is silent for a moment before he quietly begins to speak.
Maheu agrees that he has been a peaceful man, and that must prove to the Company that this is not just a matter of a few workers trying to cause trouble; instead the workers only want what it fair. They are weary of starving to death and want at least enough to earn a day’s worth of bread for their families. His voice gets stronger as he looks directly at Hennebeau and admits they have not been timbering the mines as they should, but it is because they cannot afford to lose any more pay since coal is the only thing which makes them any money. They have done the figuring, and this new system does nothing but give more money to the Company and less to the workers.
Hennebeau is about to interrupt, but Maheu will not be stopped. He speaks of things he had...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 3 Summary
After a fortnight, the number of mine workers is decreasing. They had planned to go back to work, but the Company’s intransigence has caused the worker’s resolve to strengthen—and the strike is spreading.
La Voreux seems lifeless; Village Two Hundred and Forty also seems lifeless. Though a police presence was sent, the strikers remained perfectly calm and eventually the officers left. “Never has a village set a better example” of propriety in such circumstances. The men sleep all day to avoid going out drinking, and the women consume only coffee and remain reasonable, less obsessed with feuding and gossiping. Even the children seem to understand and conduct their play without any noise. All of them understand well that there is to be no trouble.
The Maheus’ house is constantly full of people coming and going, and here Lantier metes out the money from the provident fund to the neediest families. These funds are nearly depleted now, and “hunger is staring them in the face.” Maigrat the grocer had told everyone he would extend them credit for two weeks, but he changed his mind—undoubtedly due to pressure from the Company. Even worse, it is bitterly cold and everyone’s heating coal is dwindling; people fear their supplies will not be replenished. Not only will they die of hunger, but they will also freeze to death.
Despite all the deprivation, no one has complained and all remain steadfast and resolved. Amid their trials, everyone has absolute confidence in the ultimate victory. As the villagers grow faint with fatigue, they can see the ideal world just ahead of them, a world in which all men are brothers, living and working for a common cause. This faith replaces the food that is nearly gone.
Lantier is now their undisputed leader. He reads and learns everything he can, intoxicated by his popularity. The people’s dependence on him, their devotion to every word he speaks, feeds Lantier’s vanity though he feels inadequate in one area. He knows he is lacking in formal education and often even wonders if he is the right man to be leading this movement, the complexities of which he does not always even understand. These feelings generally pass and Lantier once again sees this experience as a stepping stone to his greater ambitions.
Pluchart has been offering to come to Montsou to encourage the striking workers, though his true motive is to enlist them into the...
(The entire section is 766 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 4 Summary
The entire town of Montsou is now desolate and deserted, and Widow Desire is happy to do anything she can to take some revenge on “the men in blue” (anyone in authority), and she has even offered to host the meeting in her Jolly Fellow bar. The next day Lantier brings her fifty letters to sign and send to all the mines, to those who were part of the deputation, and to anyone who is clearly in favor of the strike. To outsiders, they would be coming to discuss the strike; in reality, they are coming to hear Pluchart’s speech about joining the International Workers’ Association as a group.
On Thursday morning, Lantier is worried because Pluchart has not yet arrived. The widow has converted the dance-hall to a meeting room and promises to keep any authorities from entering if they come. Soon Souvarine and Rasseneur arrive, and Rasseneur confesses that he is not surprised that Pluchart is not here, since he wrote Pluchart a letter asking him not to come.
As Souvarine watches impassively, the two men argue vehemently. Rasseneur wants better treatment for the miners, but he is certain things are going to be worse for them for having been on this strike. He does not believe in miracles and thinks they should simply take advantage of every small opportunity to make a change rather than demand impossible reforms which will cause all of them to die of starvation. Connecting themselves to an international organization will get them all killed.
Lantier’s idealistic thoughts are more muddled; he simply believes that the way things are done is wrong and the most viable alternative is collectivism, in which the means of production are returned to the ownership of the workers. About one thing both men are certain: things can no longer continue as they are going. About everything else they are in disagreement. “Antagonism breeds extremism,” and both men are turning into what they are not. Rasseneur is becoming overly cautious and Lantier is becoming a zealous revolutionary, positions neither of them would typically hold.
The argument escalates until Lantier says he will no longer defer to the older man. The meeting will go on with or without Pluchart, and he is confident the men will agree to join the International. Rasseneur will also speak, trying to convince the miners not do such a rash thing, and they will see where the miners’ loyalty lies.
After Rasseneur storms off, Lantier assures...
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 5 Summary
Two weeks go by; it is early January and it is cold. The miners’ situation is worse than it has ever been, and starvation is imminent. The International in London sent some assistance, but that is gone now, and the “failure of their one great hope” has everyone feeling discouraged and abandoned.
Village Two Hundred and Forty is out of everything, despite frantic efforts at collections and raising public awareness as far away as Paris. All the miners’ belongings are silently appearing at the second-hand dealers, including wool stuffing from mattresses, kitchen utensils, and furniture. With no more credit available and nothing left to sell, “they might as well lie down and die in a corner like so many mangy dogs.”
Lantier would have sold his own flesh after pawning everything but his boots. His only regret is that the strike happened to early, before his benevolent fund had a chance to accumulate some funds. To him, that is the only flaw in the current plan; if the fund had been full there would have been help for the miners and the workers would have defeated their bosses. Lantier remembers Souvarine’s opinion that the Company provoked the strike when it did, knowing there were scarce reserves in the fund.
Lantier takes long, exhausting walks. One evening he finds an old woman collapsed on the road; he sees La Mouquette and asks her to help. Tears fill her eyes as she gives the old woman a bit of gin and something to eat; the woman revives and walks off unsteadily.
La Mouquette invites Lantier into her house and, after hesitating, he goes. As she pours him a small drink, he commends her on the tidiness of her room. She begs him to make love to her, and suddenly he cannot resist. Afterwards, she thanks him profusely and Lantier is a bit ashamed.
The village learns that the Company might offer concessions if the workers’ would make a new approach to the manager. In truth, the mines are in worse shape than the miners because of their stubborn stand. While labor is dying of hunger, capital is bleeding to death, and each idle day means the loss of thousands of francs: “The machine that lies idle is a machine that is dying.” The plant and equipment are deteriorating and customers of the mine are finding other sources for their coal. The deputies are unable to keep up with the repairs and rock-falls are happening every hour. The damage is enough that it will take months of...
(The entire section is 786 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 6 Summary
Jeanlin and his two friends, Lydie and Bébert, are keeping watch from behind a rickety fence across from a seedy grocer’s shop with a dusty dried cod hanging from the window. Tonight there are many people on the road, including Hennebeau. He has often been seen riding on the roads since the strike began, seeing firsthand the state of the workers. No one has ever threatened him as he rides.
Next the kids’ plans are thwarted by Zacharie and Mouquet who make plans to play crosse the next day and Lantier and another man who say the meeting in the forest has been postponed until tomorrow night. Once the road is completely clear, Jeanlin sends Bébert across the street and tells him to grab it by the tail and be careful. Bébert grabs the fish, and all three of them run as the blind old woman keeping the shop shouts after them.
These children have become the “the scourge of the region,” treating the landscape as if it were their personal empire from which to plunder whatever they can find or steal. Jeanlin is the undisputed leader, even forcing Lydia to steal from her mother. Though she was beaten for it, Lydie did not betray Jeanlin out of fear. Bébert also turns everything over to Jeanlin, who keeps most of it for himself, thankful not to be beaten.
Jeanlin has been overstepping his power for some time, beating Lydie as if she were his wife and exploiting Bébert’s gullibility. He clearly despises them both and often leaves them suddenly, ordering them to return to the village. He does that tonight after grabbing the cod from Bébert. A common terror of Jeanlin has fostered a deep affection between Lydie and Bébert, though neither acts on their desires because of their fear.
Lantier arrives rather ashamedly to see La Mouquette, intending to break things off with her. She is not there so he waits in the darkness. Réquillart has become overgrown during the strike, though Lantier can see the entrance to the old mine. Suddenly he hears a rustling and then sees a match being lit; it is Jeanlin and Lantier watches the boy slither down a mine shaft at the other end of the platform.
Lantier silently follows the boy below ground, nearly stifling from the close proximity to the mine’s furnace. If it had been running at full capacity, the heat would have been unbearable. Lantier struggles to keep up with Jeanlin; he has climbed down twenty ladders and they are still...
(The entire section is 824 words.)
Part 4, Chapter 7 Summary
Almost three thousand workers and their families gather silently at a clearing in the forest as Jeanlin, Lydie, and Bébert sit in a tree above the crowd and watch. In the front of the group are Lantier, Maheu, and Rasseneur and an argument has begun. Rasseneur wants to properly elect a committee, idealistically believing he can regain his authority in front of everyone. Lantier thinks they should be acting like uncivilized revolutionaries rather than civilized meeting-goers.
Lantier finally climbs a tree and calls out to his comrades and the hubbub subsides. Lantier tells the crowd they have to meet here because they have been forbidden to meet in public, as if they were criminals. Here they are free and nobody can silence them. This statement incites thunderous applause and shouts of agreement.
Without emotion, Lantier reviews the history of the strike, how no one had wanted it but had been forced into it by the deceitful actions of the Board of Directors and the new Company policy. He concludes that things are currently at their worst. Now the Company is threatening to fire the strike instigators and hire replacement workers. Hunger has defeated them. Hope is lost and they are now in the “death throes of their courageous struggle.” He ends abruptly by asking if they want to continue their strike and, if so, how they will defeat the Company.
A deep silence prevails as the crowd contemplates the direness of their situation and the significance of their choice. Lantier’s voice becomes powerful and persuasive again as he asks if all their suffering was for nothing and if they were going to return, defeated, to work again in endless poverty. This time the Company has gone too far and the day is coming when the poor will rise up and obtain justice.
When he says justice, the crowd begins to echo his cry for justice now. He tells them the wage system is another form of slavery because the mine belongs to all of them. The crowd is with him, and finally Lantier talks about the collectivization of all means of production. First, collectivism will not work without the destruction of the State. Second, once the people take power, they can reform every aspect of society to guarantee equality for all, ensuring that individuals can own, and enjoy the fruits of, production. Finally, as these changes occur, the “great edifice of truth and justice…will rise with the dawn of the twentieth...
(The entire section is 787 words.)
Part 5, Chapter 1 Summary
Victor Deneulin is asleep at four o’clock in the morning when one of his deputies calls to him that the miners are mutinying. Half of the men refuse to work and will not let the other half go down the shaft. The standoff has been going on for an hour, and Deneulin is probably the only one who can break the impasse.
As he leaves for the mine, his daughters Lucie, twenty-two, and Jeanne, nineteen, are concerned. He reassures them, but they refuse to let him leave the house until he eats breakfast. Deneulin finally relents despite the urgency of the moment. The girls lost their mother when they were quite young and have been spoiled by their father, but they have learned to be much more resourceful since business troubles caused them to change their style of living. The girls offer to stay home with their father, skipping their luncheon with Madame Hennebeau, but he insists they go.
As he walks to the mine, Deneulin worries about this new danger to his fortune: the Montsou denier, the million francs he has made but is deathly afraid of losing. A series of events have jeopardized his fortune, including expensive repairs, extremely high operating costs, and the current industrial crisis just when he is about to realize a profit.
Jean-Bart is smaller than Le Voreux, but it has new machinery and a new plant, so it is a fine pit with many modern innovations. The first worker to arrive this morning was Chaval, and he created dissent and unrest among his fellow workers, convincing them they should strike just like the Montsou miners. Soon the four hundred workers were arguing, and the deputies were shouting and trying to keep order, begging the dissenters to allow those who wanted to work to do so.
Chaval is incensed when he sees Catherine in her mining clothes, ready to work. He had instructed her to stay away from the mine today, but she knows she has to keep earning money. Her worst fear is ending up in the brothel at Marchiennes, which is what happens to women like her who have no money and no place to sleep. Chaval screams at Catherine and she explains that she wants to work because she has no other way to earn a living. He tells her to go home or he will beat her; she retreats but does not leave.
Deneulin arrives, confident that a simple word from him will be enough to calm the workers back to work. The men respect him because he is often down at the coal-face with them and is the first to...
(The entire section is 805 words.)
Part 5, Chapter 2 Summary
Catherine has been working the Jean-Bart mine for an hour and she is already drenched with sweat and has to stop rolling tubs to wipe her face. They are working at a depth of seven hundred and eighty-seven meters, only three kilometers from the pit bottom. This is the part of the mine that makes experienced miners turn pale and lower their voices, as if they are talking about hell. The coal burns red and fierce here, and people walking on the surface above can see sulphurous flames and smell foul gases below them.
The heat not only stifles Catherine; it makes her afraid, remembering terrifying stories from her childhood. She pushes her tub to the relay person, a woman, and then rolls her empty tub back.
Ten years ago in this part of the mine, a firedamp explosion had set fire to the seam; that fire is still raging behind a wall of clay which is constantly at bay to keep the fire contained. It is along this wall that Catherine must roll her tubs. After two more trips, Catherine is finally overcome with the heat.
With great effort, Catherine fills her tub but can barely move it. Never before has she struggled so much at a job she has been doing for years; her ears are buzzing and her throat is on fire. She blames it on the bad air and suddenly feels the need to strip completely, thinking that she can cover up at the relay point. Now she is reduced to a grimy, sweaty animal pushing the tub on all fours.
Now Catherine is in despair, for even removing her clothes brings her no relief. The buzzing in her ears is deafening and she think she sees her lamp dimming, as if searching for oxygen, and then it goes out. Everything begins to spin, and she is lying on the ground, dying of asphyxiation.
Chaval hollers at Catherine when he does not hear the rumble of her tub. Angrily he walks threateningly toward her, tripping over her prostrate body in the dark. He is angry at her laziness but then realizes the air must be bad. He grabs her body and runs with her to a cooler part of the mine. She appears to be dead, but soon she revives enough to tell him she is cold. He dresses her, but she is still in a daze. She has never seen him so gentle and is touched when he says she should not be working in this part of the mine.
Catherine protests that she can do her share of the work but does tell Chaval that she wishes he would be kinder to her. He tells her he must love her or he would not...
(The entire section is 771 words.)
Part 5, Chapter 3 Summary
At nine o’clock, the striking workers head to the Jean-Bart mine as agreed at last night’s meeting. Souvarine refuses to get involved in today’s activities, believing a group of ten people are more effective than a mob. As Lantier leaves the house, he sees Rasseneur’s wife politely but firmly scolding him. While Maheu believes the workers should keep their word and carry through on the plans they made, he fears something bad might occur. He and Lantier are obligated to be there to ensure that the workers remain lawful. Lantier insists the workers must act in a revolutionary manner but must not threaten anyone’s life.
Lantier arrives at Jean-Bart just as Levaque and a hundred others enter the yard. He hurries to the head of the three hundred strikers. Deneulin, after seeing his daughters safely away in the carriage, returned to the pit feeling a great unease. Everything seemed to be in order: the workers are in the mine and coal is being extracted. When someone told him the strikers were coming, however, he began to feel powerless. He had no one to protect him or the buildings. Now he appears at the top of the steps leading to the pit-head and asks what they want, trying to sound unconcerned.
Lantier finally comes forward and says that the strikers mean no harm but all work at this mine must stop. Deneulin speaks to Lantier as if he were a complete fool and asks what good it will do to stop work here. Lantier will have to shoot him because the workers are not coming up unless Deneulin is dead. This “plain speaking” causes a menacing uproar among the striking workers, and Maheu has to restrain them as Lantier tries to reason with Deneulin. The mine manager’s only response is that everyone has a right to work; he only wishes he had a few armed guards to get rid of “this riff-raff.”
When Deneulin says that force is the only option with “fellows like Lantier,” Lantier manages to restrain himself enough to ask again for Deneulin to order his workers up from the mine; it is in his power to avert a disaster. Deneulin remains firm, saying the strikers are no better than thieves and robbers, here to steal people of their property.
Now there are five hundred strikers and Deneulin’s men suggest he should give in to avoid a “wholesale massacre,” but he refuses. Deneulin shouts at the crowd, saying they are nothing but common criminals. The mob erupts and overruns the building. In...
(The entire section is 801 words.)
Part 5, Chapter 4 Summary
The mob departs from the Jean-Bart mine and begins to move; by then, Lantier has again taken charge of the group. Jeanlin is in front, playing his horn, followed by rows of women, arms interlocked and carrying sticks. The men are next, a “disorderly herd” stretching wide into the distance. Levaque’s axe glints in the sunlight. Lantier is in the middle of the group and makes Chaval walk in front of him. Maheu “looks thunderous” and shoots threatening looks at his daughter Catherine; she is the only woman walking with the men, determined to prevent anyone from hurting her lover, Chaval.
It is noon and suddenly a cry for bread breaks out; the workers have been on strike for six weeks and are desperately hungry. Even Lantier is forced to admit that his body is craving food, but he remains calm and determined to prevent “pointless destruction.” A disgruntled hewer from another mine joins the crowd and shouts that they should go to Gaston-Marie and stop the pump, which will flood Jean-Bart. The crowd is easily led and it begins to turn, despite Lantier’s begging them not to do so. Then Lantier shouts that there are scabs still working in Mirou and they should go there. With a sweep of his arm, Lantier diverts the mob away from destruction, at least for now.
As they reach the pit, they see a deputy waiting for them. It is old Quandieu, a former deputy from Montsou. Their respect for a fellow miner causes the mob to pause when he asks why they are here. Lantier shouts at him to tell the miners below to come up; Quandieu says there are only six dozen workers (everyone else was too frightened) and they will not come up. When the crowd starts to move, the deputy comes down from his post to block their way.
The throng advances but the deputy stands his ground, saying he will throw himself down the shaft if he must, but they will not pass. This shocks the crowd, and he reminds them that he is just like them: when he is given a task, he will do it or die. The crowd immediately turns and again shouts for bread; in the middle of the shuffle, Chaval tries to seize the opportunity to escape but Lantier grabs him and keeps him here. Catherine is struggling to keep up. Lantier and her father both tell her she can leave Chaval with them, but she refuses to leave.
The mob reaches the Madeleine mine at two o’clock, but the deputy had been warned and only twenty men are left at the bottom. When they...
(The entire section is 804 words.)
Part 5, Chapter 5 Summary
Hennebeau is alone in the quiet house with his servant Hippolyte and the cook, who is busy preparing for this evening’s dinner party. Hippolyte announces Dansaert, who has brought news of the meeting which has taken place in the forest last night. They discuss the strike but dismiss it as just “another piece of bravado.” They do not believe they are under any serious threat.
Once Dansaert leaves, however, Hennebeau considers sending a message to the Prefect. His reluctance to reveal his anxiety keeps him from doing so. He regrets his lack of judgment in telling the Board that the strike would last two weeks at most; it has already lasted two months and he is beginning to despair. Each day Hennebeau feels more diminished and knows he must think of some great coup if he wants to recover the favor of the Board. He has written the Board to ask for instructions on what to do if fighting breaks out but has heard nothing from them. Hennebeau has convinced himself that he will have enough time to send for troops if the worst happens.
Hennebeau works until eleven o’clock when he receives telegrams describing the damage the mob did to the mines and equipment. Hennebeau wonders why the strikers are attacking Deneulin rather than one of the Company’s mines, but their attacks compliment Hennebeau’s ambitions to take over.
He goes to his nephew’s room to search for a letter they drafted last night. The room is offensively untidy. He searches for the note but his eye is caught by the glint of a perfume vial on the unmade bed; he recognizes the bottle as his wife’s and realizes an “abominable thing” has been happening in his own home. His wife is sleeping with her nephew.
Messengers and telegrams arrive, but Hennebeau is immobilized by his devastating and shameful realization. He is suddenly filled with rage, wondering what kind of woman has an affair with her nephew even as she arranges a marriage for him. It is depraved and Hennebeau wonders who she will consume next and how much lower she is willing to go once her “obliging nephew” is unavailable to her. It is torturous thinking and even Hippolyte’s timid attempts to tell Hennebeau of the strikers’ violence are not enough to divert his thoughts. Finally, as a “supreme act of will,” he goes downstairs.
Each messenger has news of fresh violence, but Hennebeau’s mind is still on the bedroom upstairs. He finally rouses...
(The entire section is 819 words.)
Part 5, Chapter 6 Summary
Catherine’s slap sobers Lantier and he successfully leads his fellow strikers to Montsou; however, the small voice of reason somewhere inside him asks what any of this will matter. He had set out for Jean-Bart this morning intending to prevent any violence; instead he is ending a day packed with violence by “laying siege to the manager’s house.”
Lantier is desperate to find something else on which the mob can unleash its fury and prevent further disaster. Rasseneur calls to Lantier from the doorway of Tison’s bar. Lantier tries to avoid him, but Rasseneur reminds Lantier that he warned him of just this kind of trouble if he started a strike. The mob might demand bread, but all they will get is bullets. Lantier accuses Rasseneur of being a coward while others risk their lives and livelihoods. Lantier will stay with his friends even if they all get killed. Everyone is throwing stones, and the women are more frightening than the men.
Suddenly there is a lull. The Gregoires walk across the road to the Hennebeau’s house as if this were an innocent gathering. As soon as the elderly couple goes inside the manager’s house, the stone-throwing and shouting intensify. Inside, Gregoire expresses his confidence that the mob will go home to their dinners as soon as everyone has had a good shout.
Hennebeau comes downstairs to greet his guests. Though he is broken as a man, he is still an “efficient administrator determined to carry out his duty.” They are all concerned that the ladies (and Negrel) have not yet returned, and Hennebeau about all the troops he requested. The cook is distraught because the pastry she ordered from the bakery has not arrived and she presumes the mob has confiscated it, Hennebeau discovers Maigrat cowering in terror, hoping for help in protecting his shop from the hostile crowd.
The Gregoires worry about Cecile and Hennebeau wonders how he had not foreseen any of this. Finally the group arrives back home, but they are being harassed by the mob. Negrel bolts the door behind them, assuming Cecile is inside. She is not. In the confusion she headed the wrong way and the women, driven to savagery, intend to whip the terrified rich girl. Bonnemort begins to strangle her out of some latent urge to kill, and the women start to rip the girl’s clothing from her body. La Maheude tries to stop them, as do Hennebeau and Negrel, and Lantier is able to distract some of the crowd by...
(The entire section is 820 words.)
Part 6, Chapter 1 Summary
It is mid-February of a bitterly cold winter and the poverty-stricken workers and their families are miserable. Montsou is now occupied by a regiment of gendarmes; armed guards keep watch at the mines, the manager’s house, the Company yards, and even some houses of the bourgeoisie. The only sound anyone can hear outside is the tramping of regular patrols.
Work has not resumed anywhere; on the contrary, the strike has spread. Many of the area mines have ceased production, others are losing more workers to the strike each day, and the rest are beginning to notice absentees. Faced with such an extensive military presence, the “miners’ mood is one of mute obstinacy.” Virtually no villager leaves his house; the people demonstrate the “patient, enforced obedience of wild animals in a cage, never taking their eyes off the trainer and just waiting to sink their teeth into his neck the moment he turns his back.” Though the strike is also ruinous to the Company, the confrontation is clearly at an impasse.
This period of calm began the moment after the terrible day of mob violence and was caused by fear. The inquest determined that Maigrat died from the fall but said nothing substantive about his mutilation. No one is interested in pursuing legal action, but the Company has dismissed whole groups of people, including Maheu, Levaque, and thirty-four other miners from Village Two Hundred and Forty alone. Lantier was dismissed, denounced by Chaval, but he disappeared on the night of the riots and has not been seen since.
In Montsou, the bourgeois now wake up imagining the wild sounds and smells of a riot, and their new priest regularly preaches that the strike is their fault. He even threatens the rich, saying God will side with the poor and take back the possessions He gave them to be redistributed among the poor for His glory. Many are frightened by such sermons, but Hennebeau sees the priest as a nuisance who will be removed by the bishop if necessary.
Meanwhile, Lantier is living underground in Jeanlin’s secret lair; he has not been found because no one suspects the leader of the miners’ strike would be hiding in a mine. Though it is hazardous to reach, the accommodations are comfortable; the only shortage is light, something even the resourceful Jeanlin cannot produce. The Maheus know where Lantier is and are also unable to send him a candle.
After five days of limited light,...
(The entire section is 804 words.)
Part 6, Chapter 2 Summary
Everything is buried in a sheet of frozen snow. Not a wisp of smoke can be seen in Village Two Hundred and Forty and the villagers are beyond cold. At the Maheus’, little Alzire is dying and her mother waits for the Company doctor. Several of the Maheu children are out begging for change and old Bonnemort appears to be asleep. Only Maheu is moving, bumping blindly around the house as if he is in a daze.
Anger and gossip are always part of the miners’ lives, but hunger has “sharpened everyone’s grudges” and arguments between two women might end in fights to the death between two men. The Levaques and the Maheus are furious at one another because of disgusting lies La Pierronne has told each woman about the other, and now the two men and La Levaque are off to the Pierronnes’ to settle the matter.
When they get there, Lydie is pacing outside in the snow. The house is dark but there is a chink of light from inside. Lydie finally confesses that her mother locked her out so she could talk to Dansaert; the overman had been scouring the village for workers all day, threatening them to go back to work at Le Voreux by Monday or the Company would bring in Belgian workers.
The adults each look through the chink at the fornication taking place in front of the fireplace inside; they are interrupted by the return of Pierronne. Alarmed by the noise, La Pierronne opens the door and it is clear to her husband that she has been having sex with Dansaert. The overman immediately runs off, afraid the manager will hear of this. Regaining her composure, La Pierronne is disdainful of their disgusting insults, assuming they are jealous of her beauty and money. When Pierronne begins to defend his wife, the three adults turn on him and the altercation ends when the two miners bloody Pierronne’s nose.
The village is still deserted when they get home and the doctor has not arrived. The Maheus have “reached their final hour.” Everything that could be burned or sold in that penniless household is gone, and tears were shed at the loss of each valued item. The priest, Father Ranvier, is canvassing the village trying to get the miners and their families to come to church. He assures the Maheus the Church is on the side of the poor and will one day call God’s wrath down on the rich.
La Maheude listens to the priest talk about a better future and is reminded of Lantier; however, she distrusts men of...
(The entire section is 805 words.)
Part 6, Chapter 3 Summary
Souvarine is the only one at the Advantage this Sunday night. Three sharp taps on the window break the silence, and Souvarine recognizes the signal Lantier uses to get his attention. Before he can reach the door, Rasseneur opens it and invites Lantier inside. He tells Lantier he has long guessed where Lantier has been hiding and could have sent the gendarmes looking for him if he had wanted, but he is no snitch. Lantier knows people can disagree but still be friends.
Silence reigns again and Souvarine feels an unconscious unease. Finally Lantier speaks. He tells them that Le Voreux is starting again tomorrow with the Belgian miners Negrel brought in after dark, to avoid trouble. Rasseneur cannot help himself from reminding Lantier that things are going to “turn nasty” if the miners continue their stubborn strike. Rasseneur saw Pluchart a few days ago and heard the International is falling apart, as well.
The International had gathered workers with a propaganda campaign that had the rich quivering with fear, but the organization is now being destroyed because of internal rivalries fueled by pride and ambition. The gradualists who founded the organization have been supplanted by anarchists, and the original goal of reforming the wage system for workers has been replaced by the desire to avoid being regimented. The International had a chance to “sweep away the old, rotten structures of society at a stroke,” but now it is powerless. Though Pluchart is discouraged and has lost his voice, he is still giving speeches; however, Pluchart is convinced the miners’ strike has failed.
Last evening Lantier talked to some of the miners; he began to feel some resentment and suspicion and sense the ultimate defeat of the movement. Lantier feels gloomy and helpless in the presence of the man who had predicted that the crowd would one day turn on him with vengeance in their hearts. Lantier admits that the strike has failed, though workers began the strike unwillingly and never thought their efforts would decimate the Company. People got carried away, and now that things are difficult they forget that they knew this kind of suffering was inevitable.
Rasseneur asks Lantier why he does not get his comrades to stop the strike and go back to work; Lantier says that even if they all die, their “starved corpses will do more for the people’s cause” than Rasseneur’s approach. It would be a perfect end to...
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Part 6, Chapter 4 Summary
Lantier and Catherine leave the bar, but Lantier does not quite know what to do with her. She refuses to go to her parents’ and he does not think it is appropriate for him to take her to his underground lair. They walk in awkward silence, and Lantier is reminded of their “previous passionate desire” for each other; it was also hesitant and awkward, and he wonders if this means the passion still exists. Finally she says she should not go to his hiding place because she has a man and he also has La Mouquette, though Lantier swears he has no one special.
Catherine assures Lantier that he is not missing anything because she is not a proper woman, her puberty long delayed by the conditions in which she has lived. She regrets she is a “useless specimen,” and Lantier pities her self-loathing. She does not want to go with Lantier so quickly after leaving Chaval, and she finds no pleasure in sex anyway.
Catherine says she is going home to Chaval, as it is the only place she has to sleep. Lantier fears for her safety, but Catherine shrugs in resignation. A beating eventually ends, and it is better than walking around like a beggar. She consoles herself with the knowledge that eight out of ten girls do not end up any better than she has.
They walk silently and Lantier’s heart is breaking for the girl, but he knows he has virtually nothing to offer her so he walks her near Chaval’s house where she tells him to leave. From inside, she whispers that Chaval is not back yet and she is going to bed. Lantier reluctantly leaves and walks past Le Voreux. He is surprised to see Jeanlin in the moonlight, creeping toward the armed guard; he is further astonished to see the boy jump on the sentry’s back and silently slit the soldier’s throat.
Lantier rages at the boy. Jeanlin says he did it just because he felt like it. Lantier is appalled that this child is seething with such criminal urges, and when he sees that the dead sentry is the one he recently spoke to, he feels an “enormous wave of pity” for the young soldier. Now he must help Jeanlin get rid of the body. There is no trace of blood because the knife is still in his neck, so they drag the body until they can laboriously drag it down to the loading bay. He sends Jeanlin for a precious candle and they proceed to place the guard in a precarious place and then collapse that part of the mine on top of him as a burial mound.
(The entire section is 786 words.)
Part 6, Chapter 5 Summary
All the entrances to Le Voreux are now closed, and the sixty soldiers on guard are protecting the one remaining entrance. The thirty miners from the village keep their distance at first. La Maheude is the first to arrive at the pit, and she insists that no one will come in or out without having to confront the strikers. Mouque, the old stableman, will not be dissuaded. Everyone allows him in, and he soon comes out bearing a dead horse in his cart.
It is Trumpet, the horse which never adapted to life underground. His death is no surprise and the overman had been warned that the death was likely; now Battle has to haul his dead companion out of the mine. It is a tragic sight, and the strikers are saddened to think that the horse has no choice in whether or not it wants to live its life underground.
A new group of striking miners arrives, and they are calling for the deaths of the Belgian workers. Lantier stops the strikers and tries to reason with the twenty-something captain, assuring him that justice is on the strikers’ side and the captain does not want to be responsible for not preventing a “pointless massacre.” He tries to reason with the grim-faced commander three more times as the miners are growing more restless. The captain finally shouts at Lantier that he is not here to negotiate but to follow orders and guard the pit; if the insurgents do not back away, he will be compelled to use force against them.
The captain’s voice is strong but he is visibly shaken and has already sent for reinforcements. Lantier admits defeat and knows he can no longer control what will happen. The crowd moves in, and Catherine is watching it all. She heard Lantier make an appeal to the guard as a fellow worker, as one of them, but clearly that argument had no effect on the young and determined captain.
The crowd, now nearly five hundred people, presses in as the soldiers present their bayonets. The crowd charges, “drunk on their heedlessness of death.” The soldiers have been ordered to avoid violence, but the crowd is leaving them little choice. Violence seems inevitable until Richomme, the deputy, appears. He assures the workers that he was once one of them and promises them fair treatment. This stalls the attack until the crowd spots the cowardly overman, Negrel, in a window.
Neither Richomme nor Lantier can do anything, so the captain decides staging a show of strength might calm the...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
Part 7, Chapter 1 Summary
For the past four days, outrage over the twenty-five wounded and fourteen dead (including three women and two children), plus the taking of prisoners, has grown to such proportions that the French government has tried to downplay the event into a minor incident in a remote region of the country. The Company has been told to settle the tiresome strike before it poses a serious threat to society.
Three Board members arrive in Montsou, and the devastated town feels as if it about to be saved. The weather is now pleasant, and rumors that the Company will welcome back the striking miners abound. The Company is finally showing some good faith by firing the Belgian workers and removing the guards from the mines.
Yet the Company is doing what it can to move forward, and it is expected that Deneulin will soon sell Vandame to the Company. What have caused the most commotion are the ubiquitous large, yellow posters which the Company has posted. It does not want the recent “misguided behavior" and “sorry consequences” to deprive workers of their livelihood. All pits will be open on Monday morning; after work has resumed, the company will consider any “areas where it may be possible to make some improvement” and will do “everything that is just and within our power.” Ten thousand colliers see the notice one morning, and not one of them says a word.
Village Two Hundred and Forty has remained fiercely resistant, and only a few miners return to work. The rest are distrustful, and they will not return until the Company makes clear how they will be treated. The Maheus’ house is “plunged in overwhelming grief.” La Maheude has not spoken a word since her husband’s burial, Catherine is back home, and Lantier is again staying with them. Nothing about their lives has changed except Maheu is gone.
Lantier goes for a walk, but the glares and silent reproach of the villagers are too much to bear. When he arrives home, he is stunned to hear La Maheude ranting at Catherine, who has decided to go back to the mine. Catherine feels useless when she is not working, but her mother says she would rather see all her children dead before they are exploited by the Company just as they were before the strike.
La Maheude collapses into tears, lamenting that things were bad once but at least the family was all together; however, they were also exploited by the Company and had nothing to show for their...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
Part 7, Chapter 2 Summary
Sunday night, Lantier walks along the canal, as he often does. He never sees anyone else and is annoyed to see a man coming towards him tonight. Neither man recognizes the other until they meet. Lantier and Souvarine then walk in silence, each man consumed with his own thoughts.
Eventually Lantier tells Souvarine that Pluchart has had great success in Paris; Souvarine is not interested in such smooth-talking types. Lantier talks about Darwin and his theory, expressing his hope that the strong will one day rise up and “devour a worn-out bourgeoisie.” Souvarine interrupts and denounces Darwin, the “scientific apostle of inequality whose great notion of natural selection might as well be the philosophy of an aristocrat.”
The men walk on in silence until Souvarine abruptly relates the story of how his girlfriend back in Russia died; all Lantier knows is that she was hanged. Annouchka was part of a plan with him and others to blow up an Imperial train; instead they destroyed an ordinary passenger train and she was arrested. Souvarine wanted to be near her, but he was needed to continue fighting for the cause and she silently willed him not to risk his own life. The couple was punished for loving one another, and now Souvarine has “no weakness left in his heart,” nothing to keep him from taking other lives or laying down his own for his cause.
Tomorrow is the first day all the mines will be open, and the Company has posted new flyers, promising to re-employ and pardon any fired workers, even leaders of the strike, if they show up on Monday. Souvarine is certain “the herd will go back” because everyone is too cowardly. Lantier defends his comrades, knowing that while one man can stand alone and be brave, “a starving crowd is powerless.” Because of that, Lantier forgives the miners for going back to work, though he will not.
Souvarine confirms that the extraction cages rub against the walls on their way up and down, but the bosses are more concerned about getting coal than about safety. After two hours of walking, Souvarine announces that he is leaving and it is unlikely they will see one another again. After Lantier goes home to bed, Souvarine gets his jacket, into which he had rolled some tools, and heads for the mine. He knows exactly where the cage has been catching and climbs unseen down the ladders to that spot. The problem was created by the pressure of the earth which has...
(The entire section is 755 words.)
Part 7, Chapter 3 Summary
At four o’clock the miners begin to descend. Dansaert writes each worker’s name down without comment, as the notices promised. He considers rejecting Lantier and Catherine, but he he gloats instead. Chaval is not silent and berates both of them, though it is clearly because he is jealous. No one else even seems to notice them.
Lantier and Catherine squeeze into an already full tub. The cage is released, and two-thirds of the way down there is a terrible scraping noise; everyone is jostled together when the ironwork creaks. Despite the problem, the cage reaches the bottom but the riders are soaked with water from a host of apparent leaks. Not one deputy decides to check on the excessive water.
At the bottom, miners are divided into ten-man teams, and Chaval deliberately becomes the tenth member of Lantier’s and Catherine’s crew. As work begins, no one speaks much; however, both of Catherine’s lovers nearly come to blows. Chaval insists he has no more use for Catherine. Lantier threatens Chaval, and the two men have to be separated.
Dansaert has been expecting Negrel but the overman has not appeared. Another hour passes and Dansaert has stopped work so the miners can spend time ramming the props to hold up the ceiling. As they work, they hear what seem to be people running above them, as if their comrades are racing for the surface; however, eventually the coal tubs get moving again.
Catherine is shaken as she reports that there is no one left in this part of the mine. Every worker immediately drops everything but lamps, horrified at the thought of being left behind in the pit so far from the shaft. They are all terrified and calling for help, but the silence only intensifies their terror. Soon they are up to their knees in water and the wood lining the shaft is beginning to fall on them. Water continues to fall and finally Dansaert, faced with an emergency, is forced to give the order to evacuate the mine.
A “terrible stampede” ensues. One cage is soon disabled and the other is catching so badly that its cable “is bound to snap soon.” A hundred miners remain below and three men have already died; Dansaert is ineffectual at maintaining order. Lantier and Chaval’s team arrive just as the cage disappears and the shaft collapses. The cage will not be returning, and the shaft is blocked. Lantier picks up Catherine. Twenty miners remain and the water is rising; water is...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Part 7, Chapter 4 Summary
Hennebeau is not being blamed for negligence, but the Company believes the explosion was the work of many and begins protecting itself by firing the cowardly Dansaert. Deneulin, the newly appointed divisional engineer, has to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
He stops the flooding from the canal and starts to pump the water from the underground mine. Negrel is still determined to rescue the trapped workers and has plenty of volunteers. The strike and other animosities are forgotten in the midst of this crisis. Though Negrel suspects the fifteen miners are dead, he acts as if they are still alive. The only viable option is to descend though Requillart, though it is a challenge, as well. Once they get below, they do not hear anything and are not sure where to punch through the wall to try to reach the Le Voreux passageways.
Every morning, La Maheude comes to Le Voreux and sits until evening, hoping for news. Jeanlin, whose underground lair at Requillart is being threatened by the presence of the rescue workers, is also frightened. Zacharie, Catherine’s young brother, is the most distraught. One day Zacharie emerges from the shaft, screaming that Catherine is alive.
Negrel and his men go to the spot but do not hear anything in response to their taps; soon, though, there is an astonishing tap in reply. The distance between the trapped miners and their freedom is only about fifty meters, and Negrel gives the order to begin digging. There is only room for one miner at a time to chip at the coal, and the miners work in two-hour shifts. Zacharie works his own shift and any others he can until he exhausted; then he goes back to work. The miners dig six meters in one day, but the coal gets harder to mine and they only cut through thirty-two meters in nine days. Negrel has been living below and is worried that this effort will be too late to save the trapped miners; it seems unlikely they could have lasted this long.
At noon on the ninth day, Zacharie does not answer when he is called, and it is too dark for anyone to see him. The rescue miners have been warned not to turn their lamps up too high because firedamp has been detected; huge pockets of gas have been accumulating on the narrow, unventilated shafts. Suddenly there is a “thunderous explosion.” Flames and chunks spew from the mine shaft. Three miners and the deputy are alive but so covered with burns that they cry out to die. Zachary’s...
(The entire section is 801 words.)
Part 7, Chapter 5 Summary
In the pit shaft, the twenty surviving miners are screaming with terror as the water rises to waist-level. The noise of the water is deafening, but worse is the whinnying of the horses trapped in the stable. When Mouque finally has to let go of Battle, the old horse stands his ground for a moment before racing down one of the haulage roads. They follow the horse, knowing their best chance for escape is Requillart.
At a crossroads, Chaval impatiently chooses one direction, and two others follow him. The rest follow old Mouque, though they are all disoriented and even the older miners are unsure where they are or where they are going. Lantier is in the rear because Catherine is exhausted and frightened. If he had been alone, he would have followed Chaval because he thought that was the right direction; now there are seven of them following Mouque.
Lantier offers to carry Catherine, but she would rather be left behind to die. They are fifty meters behind the others when Lantier finally picks her up despite her resistance; suddenly they are confronted with a slab of coal which has fallen and blocked them from the others. They are lost for a time, but Lantier finally recognizes a path and they are able to move forward, despite the water lapping at their chests and pushing against them. They watch the valiant horse, Battle, lose his struggle to live free; the sight of death changes Catherine’s mind. Though she is still terrified, she now wants to live.
They climb the chimney and the water pursues them until they reach the ninth level. Catherine sleeps for several hours, but when the water begins to reach them Lantier has to keep them moving. “The whole mine has been profoundly disturbed, and its frail intestines are bursting under the pressure of the enormous quantity of water it has imbibed.” Lantier manages to get them through a doorway and onto a road where they are astonished to see the glow of a lantern. It is Chaval.
Chaval’s two companions are dead and he has their food and their lanterns and the passage is blocked. He sneers when he sees Lantier and Catherine, but Lantier is pragmatic and asks about the blocked passage. Chaval has set the lanterns and the sandwiches against the wall and knows he can survive for several days if he is careful. Lantier begins tapping the miners’ code against the rock, but there is no answer. Catherine says nothing, as finding herself trapped between these...
(The entire section is 795 words.)
Part 7, Chapter 6 Summary
At four o’clock in the morning, Lantier is walking along the Vandame road after spending six weeks in the Montsou hospital. He is still not strong, but he felt strong enough to leave and began walking. The Company had dismissed him but offered him a hundred francs and suggested he quit the mining business. Lantier refused the money and wrote to Pluchart, who immediately invited him to Paris and sent the fare. Lantier is here now to tell his comrades goodbye before he leaves.
Lantier has not seen anyone since the disaster. La Maheude came once but had probably been stopped from coming again. All the workers from Village Two Hundred and Forty, including La Maheude, are now working at Jean-Bart. The miners slowly begin to appear on the road and pass Lantier on their way to work. The Company is taking advantage of its victory, offering its workers, “vanquished by hunger after two and a half months out on strike,” the same disguised pay-cuts which prompted the strike.
All the mines are resuming work, but the workers are seething with anger and hatred, reluctantly accepting only one master: hunger. Lantier has a lingering fear of the mine, but he visits his comrades in the changing room. None of the faces are familiar, and they seem to have no resentment toward him. Instead, they look at him with fear, embarrassed that he might see them as cowards for giving up the strike. A new batch of workers arrives, and Lantier recognizes them. They stammer excuses; but when they leave they shake hands silently with Lantier and he feels their unspoken fury at having to relent to the Company in order to feed their families.
Pierron has been promoted to deputy and is annoyed at Lantier’s presence. La Maheude arrives and will work at an awful job the Company created for her in consideration of her tragic losses, breaking its own policy about hiring a forty-year-old woman. She does not apologize, as it is a simple matter of survival. She tells Lantier that old Bonnemort is the same as he has been but will not get his pension from the Company. Jeanlin also has a job now, but what the two of them earn will not feed six people—and it will be four or five years before the next-youngest children will be able to work in the mines: “The job’s killed everyone else, so now it’s their turn.”
Before she goes below, La Maheude tells Lantier she bears him no grudge. It was bound to be something which started a...
(The entire section is 754 words.)