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 men agree that things cannot continue as they are; workers are not getting their share of the profits, and, though they have been pronounced “free,” they are free only to die of starvation or overwork. It is nearing the time for another workers’ revolution, “a right bust-up that would sort society out from top to bottom and rebuild it on a just and proper basis.”
Souvarine thinks to himself that, despite the problems, the owners cannot increase workers’ wages because they are fixed by the “law of the irreducible...
(The entire section is 780 words.)