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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 has become a meeting place, and Rasseneur is able to keep stirring the workers’ anger. Maheu asks the landlord if either of his rooms are available and if he will extend credit to the new man; he cannot. Though Lantier had been expecting this refusal, it still hurts him to hear it and he is surprised that it matters to him. 

Quietly, Rasseneur asks Maheu if there is anything new to report; Maheu looks around before telling him about the timbering incident. Though he is nervous about Lantier listening, the landlord talks about the danger all of the Company...

(The entire section is 807 words.)