Part 7, Chapter 2 Summary
Sunday night, Lantier walks along the canal, as he often does. He never sees anyone else and is annoyed to see a man coming towards him tonight. Neither man recognizes the other until they meet. Lantier and Souvarine then walk in silence, each man consumed with his own thoughts.
Eventually Lantier tells Souvarine that Pluchart has had great success in Paris; Souvarine is not interested in such smooth-talking types. Lantier talks about Darwin and his theory, expressing his hope that the strong will one day rise up and “devour a worn-out bourgeoisie.” Souvarine interrupts and denounces Darwin, the “scientific apostle of inequality whose great notion of natural selection might as well be the philosophy of an aristocrat.”
The men walk on in silence until Souvarine abruptly relates the story of how his girlfriend back in Russia died; all Lantier knows is that she was hanged. Annouchka was part of a plan with him and others to blow up an Imperial train; instead they destroyed an ordinary passenger train and she was arrested. Souvarine wanted to be near her, but he was needed to continue fighting for the cause and she silently willed him not to risk his own life. The couple was punished for loving one another, and now Souvarine has “no weakness left in his heart,” nothing to keep him from taking other lives or laying down his own for his cause.
Tomorrow is the first day all the mines will be open, and the Company has posted new flyers, promising to re-employ and pardon any fired workers, even leaders of the strike, if they show up on Monday. Souvarine is certain “the herd will go back” because everyone is too cowardly. Lantier defends his comrades, knowing that while one man can stand alone and be brave, “a starving crowd is powerless.” Because of that, Lantier forgives the miners for going back to work, though he will not.
Souvarine confirms that the extraction cages rub against the walls on their way up and down, but the bosses are more concerned about getting coal than about safety. After two hours of walking, Souvarine announces that he is leaving and it is unlikely they will see one another again. After Lantier goes home to bed, Souvarine gets his jacket, into which he had rolled some tools, and heads for the mine. He knows exactly where the cage has been catching and climbs unseen down the ladders to that spot. The problem was created by the pressure of the earth which has been destabilized by the “constant movement of abandoned workings gradually caving in.”
With great difficulty and significant danger to himself, Souvarine sabotages the shaft, ensuring that the “beast had been wounded in its belly, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive the day.” Most importantly, he has “left his signature: a horrified world would know that this was no death from natural causes.” When he...
(The entire section is 755 words.)