The most visible example of irony in the entire plot is the substantial change in Maheude’s temperaments before Etienne’s talks about the strike and then after the strike. Maheude is a very proud woman who does not beg for resources or money. She is also initially very hesitant and wary of Etienne’s call to arms and rhetoric of radical change and revolution. In fact, she cautions Maheu against falling into Etienne’s passionate words of fighting tribulations and misery. But as the novel progresses, Maheude becomes increasingly aggressive and vehement about the importance of the strike and not giving up. That shift in character and temperament - from calculated to a devout pupil of Etienne’s rhetoric - makes her the most dynamic character in the entire book.
In the most violent scene of the novel, the women of the settlement mutilate Maigrat’s body and rip off his genitals after he falls to his death. The women, after having been subject to sexual and emotional harassment by Maigrat, completely disfigure his corpse in an act of supreme revenge. The rampant sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny of the novel’s historical backdrop is juxtaposed with this act of freedom in which women go beyond simple retribution. They do not seek gender equality, but rather relish in a sadistic defilement of human flesh. They act as she-wolves in a pack, pillaging their prey’s dead body of all its dignity. They release their rage a moment too late. Maigrat is already dead, and because they were not the ones to kill him, they are even more enraged. Their revenge involves the execution of justice but also the criminal act of humiliation. Because Maigrat is no longer alive, their violence has less meaning.
Return to Work
At the end of the novel, the workers return to the same daily routine of working in the precise conditions against which they fought and protested against for so very long. Remarkably, not much has changed materially for the strikers.
Despite having inculcated revolutionary passions among the strikers, Etienne leaves Montsou empty-handed. He hits the road once again, this time (though as previously without money or any material possessions) with a sense of purpose to find Pluchart and further engage in a fight for justice and equality for the working classes around the world.
Germinal Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Germinal is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.