Part 6, Chapter 1 Summary
It is mid-February of a bitterly cold winter and the poverty-stricken workers and their families are miserable. Montsou is now occupied by a regiment of gendarmes; armed guards keep watch at the mines, the manager’s house, the Company yards, and even some houses of the bourgeoisie. The only sound anyone can hear outside is the tramping of regular patrols.
Work has not resumed anywhere; on the contrary, the strike has spread. Many of the area mines have ceased production, others are losing more workers to the strike each day, and the rest are beginning to notice absentees. Faced with such an extensive military presence, the “miners’ mood is one of mute obstinacy.” Virtually no villager leaves his house; the people demonstrate the “patient, enforced obedience of wild animals in a cage, never taking their eyes off the trainer and just waiting to sink their teeth into his neck the moment he turns his back.” Though the strike is also ruinous to the Company, the confrontation is clearly at an impasse.
This period of calm began the moment after the terrible day of mob violence and was caused by fear. The inquest determined that Maigrat died from the fall but said nothing substantive about his mutilation. No one is interested in pursuing legal action, but the Company has dismissed whole groups of people, including Maheu, Levaque, and thirty-four other miners from Village Two Hundred and Forty alone. Lantier was dismissed, denounced by Chaval, but he disappeared on the night of the riots and has not been seen since.
In Montsou, the bourgeois now wake up imagining the wild sounds and smells of a riot, and their new priest regularly preaches that the strike is their fault. He even threatens the rich, saying God will side with the poor and take back the possessions He gave them to be redistributed among the poor for His glory. Many are frightened by such sermons, but Hennebeau sees the priest as a nuisance who will be removed by the bishop if necessary.
Meanwhile, Lantier is living underground in Jeanlin’s secret lair; he has not been found because no one suspects the leader of the miners’ strike would be hiding in a mine. Though it is hazardous to reach, the accommodations are comfortable; the only shortage is light, something even the resourceful Jeanlin cannot produce. The Maheus know where Lantier is and are also unable to send him a candle.
After five days of limited light, Lantier feels the oppression of darkness. He does not like living on stolen bread but knows “his task is not yet accomplished.” Remembering his violent outburst after drinking fills Lantier with disgust. He spends his time reflecting on the horrible lives of the “wretched people living on top of each other and washing in each other’s dirty water.” He would like to teach them finer ways, but he is growing impatient and finds himself thinking more like the bourgeoisie he so despises.
The gendarmes think he left the country, so after a week he ventures out at night. As he prowls the countryside, Lantier can practically hear the mines and factories collapsing,...
(The entire section is 804 words.)