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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 meeting room and promises to keep any authorities from entering if they come. Soon Souvarine and Rasseneur arrive, and Rasseneur confesses that he is not surprised that Pluchart is not here, since he wrote Pluchart a letter asking him not to come.

As Souvarine watches impassively, the two men argue vehemently. Rasseneur wants better treatment for the miners, but he is certain things are going to be worse for them for having been on this strike. He does not believe in miracles and thinks they should simply take advantage of every small opportunity to make a change rather than demand impossible reforms which will cause all of them to die of starvation. Connecting themselves to an international organization will get them all killed.

Lantier’s idealistic thoughts are more muddled; he simply believes that the way things are done is wrong and the most viable alternative is collectivism, in which the means of production are returned to the ownership of the workers. About one thing both men are certain: things can no longer continue as they are going. About everything else they are in disagreement. “Antagonism breeds extremism,” and both men are turning into what they are not. Rasseneur is becoming overly cautious and Lantier is becoming a zealous revolutionary, positions neither of them would typically hold.

The argument escalates until Lantier says he will no longer defer to the older man. The meeting will go on with or without Pluchart, and he is confident the men will agree to join the International. Rasseneur will also speak, trying to convince the miners not do such a rash thing, and they will see where the miners’ loyalty lies.

After Rasseneur storms off, Lantier assures Souvarine that he does not want one miner to suffer because of his actions and asks Souvarine what he would do in this position. “In the grip of an ecstatic vision,” Souvarine explains that the only real answer is the destruction of everything: nations, governments, property, God, and religion. All that remains is the community in its most basic form and the world can begin again. The only way this can happen is through “fire, sword, and poison.” Lantier insists the desperation is not great enough yet, and Souvarine has no idea how this new future would look. All Souvarine can see is the grand destruction of revolution.

The delegates start arriving at one thirty but Pluchart is still not here. Lantier meets each miner personally and examines...

(The entire section is 810 words.)