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 International Worker’s Association. Lantier is in favor but Rasseneur vehemently objects, and he is the more established man. La Maheude, once against the strike, is now adamant that, once begun, they must never back down from their position.
One day Catherine returns home to speak to her mother but is silenced when she sees Lantier there also. La Maheude screams all her frustration at Catherine, who came only to leave some coffee and sugar for her family. Catherine explains that her life is not her...
(The entire section is 766 words.)