Part 7, Chapter 1 Summary
For the past four days, outrage over the twenty-five wounded and fourteen dead (including three women and two children), plus the taking of prisoners, has grown to such proportions that the French government has tried to downplay the event into a minor incident in a remote region of the country. The Company has been told to settle the tiresome strike before it poses a serious threat to society.
Three Board members arrive in Montsou, and the devastated town feels as if it about to be saved. The weather is now pleasant, and rumors that the Company will welcome back the striking miners abound. The Company is finally showing some good faith by firing the Belgian workers and removing the guards from the mines.
Yet the Company is doing what it can to move forward, and it is expected that Deneulin will soon sell Vandame to the Company. What have caused the most commotion are the ubiquitous large, yellow posters which the Company has posted. It does not want the recent “misguided behavior" and “sorry consequences” to deprive workers of their livelihood. All pits will be open on Monday morning; after work has resumed, the company will consider any “areas where it may be possible to make some improvement” and will do “everything that is just and within our power.” Ten thousand colliers see the notice one morning, and not one of them says a word.
Village Two Hundred and Forty has remained fiercely resistant, and only a few miners return to work. The rest are distrustful, and they will not return until the Company makes clear how they will be treated. The Maheus’ house is “plunged in overwhelming grief.” La Maheude has not spoken a word since her husband’s burial, Catherine is back home, and Lantier is again staying with them. Nothing about their lives has changed except Maheu is gone.
Lantier goes for a walk, but the glares and silent reproach of the villagers are too much to bear. When he arrives home, he is stunned to hear La Maheude ranting at Catherine, who has decided to go back to the mine. Catherine feels useless when she is not working, but her mother says she would rather see all her children dead before they are exploited by the Company just as they were before the strike.
La Maheude collapses into tears, lamenting that things were bad once but at least the family was all together; however, they were also exploited by the Company and had nothing to show for their exertions. She wonders how they made themselves “so wretched when all they wanted was justice” and chastises herself for daring to believe the dream of something better. When she turns on Lantier, he leaves out of guilt. Again he walks through the village and this time the recriminations are not silent. Now that he cannot help the strikers, Lantier feels only disgust for them and he runs out of town, followed by a screaming horde.
He meets a group of miners, including old Mouque and Chaval. The old man lost a son and daughter in the...
(The entire section is 799 words.)