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 will never change, and the injustice of her life sometimes sickens her. Only old Bonnemort mutters that in his day people did not question such things but simply accepted what was without worrying about it.
Lantier begins a diatribe in which he reminds them that they are all supposed to be free since the Revolution and wonders why the worker should be slave to the owner when each has an equal vote. Big companies run over humans like machines and it is all due to education, according to Lantier, as the older generations who could neither read nor write did not let such atrocities happen. The church is no help at all, and justice must now provide...
(The entire section is 801 words.)