Study Guide

Germinal

by Émile Zola

Germinal Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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.)

Germinal Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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 Montsou mines. He lives in peace and luxury with his wife and only daughter, Cecile. A marriage has been arranged between Cecile and Négrel. One morning Maheude, Maheu’s wife, and two of her small children go to the Grégoires to seek help. They are given warm clothing but no money, since the Grégoires believe working people will only spend money in drinking and nonsense. Maheude has to beg for some groceries and money from Maigrat, who keeps a shop and who will lend money if he receives a woman’s caresses in return. He has Catherine in mind. Catherine, however, escapes him, meets Chaval that night, and allows him to seduce her. Étienne witnesses the seduction and is disillusioned by the young girl.

Étienne so quickly and expertly adapts himself to the mine that he earns the respect of Maheu. He makes friends with the other workers. Only toward Chaval is he clandestinely hostile, for Catherine now openly shows herself as the man’s mistress. At the place where Étienne lives, he chats with Souvarine, a friendly man who thinks that true social change can only be achieved through violent social revolution. Étienne discusses a new movement he has heard about from his friend Pluchart, a Lille mechanic. It is a Marxist movement to free the workers. Étienne comes to loathe the working conditions and the lives of the miners and their families, and he hopes to collect a fund to sustain the forthcoming strike. He discusses his plan with Rasseneur, with whom he boards.

After Zacharie marries his mistress Philomène, the mother of two of his children, Étienne comes to the Maheu household as a boarder. Night after night he urges them to accept his socialistic point of view. As the summer wears on, he gains prestige among the neighbors, and his fund grows. As the secretary, he draws a small fee and is able...

(The entire section is 1345 words.)

Germinal Chapter Summaries

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...

(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...

(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”...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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.

...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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....

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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 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.

...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(The entire section is 754 words.)