Part 5, Chapter 3 Summary
At nine o’clock, the striking workers head to the Jean-Bart mine as agreed at last night’s meeting. Souvarine refuses to get involved in today’s activities, believing a group of ten people are more effective than a mob. As Lantier leaves the house, he sees Rasseneur’s wife politely but firmly scolding him. While Maheu believes the workers should keep their word and carry through on the plans they made, he fears something bad might occur. He and Lantier are obligated to be there to ensure that the workers remain lawful. Lantier insists the workers must act in a revolutionary manner but must not threaten anyone’s life.
Lantier arrives at Jean-Bart just as Levaque and a hundred others enter the yard. He hurries to the head of the three hundred strikers. Deneulin, after seeing his daughters safely away in the carriage, returned to the pit feeling a great unease. Everything seemed to be in order: the workers are in the mine and coal is being extracted. When someone told him the strikers were coming, however, he began to feel powerless. He had no one to protect him or the buildings. Now he appears at the top of the steps leading to the pit-head and asks what they want, trying to sound unconcerned.
Lantier finally comes forward and says that the strikers mean no harm but all work at this mine must stop. Deneulin speaks to Lantier as if he were a complete fool and asks what good it will do to stop work here. Lantier will have to shoot him because the workers are not coming up unless Deneulin is dead. This “plain speaking” causes a menacing uproar among the striking workers, and Maheu has to restrain them as Lantier tries to reason with Deneulin. The mine manager’s only response is that everyone has a right to work; he only wishes he had a few armed guards to get rid of “this riff-raff.”
When Deneulin says that force is the only option with “fellows like Lantier,” Lantier manages to restrain himself enough to ask again for Deneulin to order his workers up from the mine; it is in his power to avert a disaster. Deneulin remains firm, saying the strikers are no better than thieves and robbers, here to steal people of their property.
Now there are five hundred strikers and Deneulin’s men suggest he should give in to avoid a “wholesale massacre,” but he refuses. Deneulin shouts at the crowd, saying they are nothing but common criminals. The mob erupts and overruns the building. In less than five minutes, the striking workers, incited by their screaming wives, are in control of the mine. Deneulin has barricaded himself in the deputies’ room.
Lantier is ashamed that, as a leader, he cannot control the mob and the violence they seem intent on doing. Levaque is suddenly calling for everyone to help cut the cables. Lantier tries to remind them that there are workers down in the mine, but the mob is merciless and claims the scab workers should never have gone down there at all and can use the ladders if they want to escape.
(The entire section is 801 words.)