Germinal Summary and Analysis of Part 4, Chapters IV-VII


The next Thursday, a private meeting is organized at the Bon-Joyeux by the strikers to receive Pluchart, a labor organizer and Etienne’s acquaintance. An argument breaks out between Etienne and Rasseneur, with the latter stating that Etienne is becoming far too radical – that a moderate approach to the strike will be more effective. Etienne accuses Rasseneur of being jealous of him. Rasseneur fires back: all Etienne wants is to be at the head of the strike. Rasseneur barges out the door, and Souvarine is quietly smoking at the table.

Pluchart arrives later in the afternoon, with about a hundred miners waiting on the benches in the room. Rasseneur comes back in and attempts to convince the miners how much misery a continuation of the strike will bring and proceeds to attack the International Workmen’s Association (which Pluchart represents). Pluchart then rises to give his speech about revolution and liberation, which rouses the strikers even more than Rasseneur’s speech. Widow Desire (to whom the Bon-Joyeux belongs) comes in shouting that gendarmes (armed police officers) along with the commissioner of the district were coming to break up the meeting. The gendarmes attempt to break down the door, but large Widow manages to keep the door closed long enough for the miners to escape through an alley. The commissioner leaves to prepare a report.

Pluchart leaves, and sends four thousand francs to support the strikers. Another two weeks pass, and January brings unforgiving winds and cold. Etienne frequently makes distant walks around the settlement, and one evening comes upon Mouquette in the open field of Requillart. Mouquette invites him in for food. Overcome with desire, Mouquette makes sexual advances on Etienne, who gives in. Afterwards, Etienne feels guilty and resolves that such an intimate encounter cannot happen again.

Jeanlin is now well and able to walk. Jeanlin and his friends Bebert and Lydie are keeping watch of the road from behind the fence across the street from a grocer. Many people are on the road tonight, including M. Hennebeau. Soon, the three terrorize the countryside and plunder onion fields, orchards, and shops. People begin accusing the miners on strike. One day, Jeanlin forces Lydie to steal from her mother. In the end, Jeanlin always gives himself the lion’s share of the loot. For a week, he suddenly disappears at the end of a road and make his friends wait in the darkness for a few minutes.

Etienne returns to Requillart to officially breakup with Mouquette, and while he waits behind a bush he suddenly sees Jeanlin disappear into a hole. Unbeknownst to Jeanlin, Etienne follows him down (the descent is over twenty ladders). He reaches a part of the underground gallery that was perfectly preserved. The gallery-end was changed into a comfortable dwelling, with a pile of hay used as a soft couch, a table, potatoes, bread, and even some gin. There is loot enough to last weeks. Etienne surprises Jeanlin, who quickly grows calm and asks Etienne to join him for dinner. After having a hearty dinner, Etienne goes back up (warning Jeanlin to be careful) and goes on a walk with Mouquette. On the road, they see a distressed Catherine. Upon hearing Etienne’s anxious reaction, Mouquette realizes that Etienne does not love her.

M. Hennebeau is returning home and listens to the young miners and their lovers having sex in the ditches along the road. He is angry with the miners for their ungratefulness, especially because he himself would have willingly starved if he could begin life again with a woman who loves him.

Close to three thousand miners gather in the forest clearing, with Etienne, Maheu and Rasseneur standing at the top. A quarrel brakes out: Rasseneur wants to proceed formally to the election of officers (swearing revenge after his defeat at Bon-Joyeux). Maheu stifles Rasseneur’s protestations, and Etienne rouses the crowd – taking on less of a secretarial role and more of a chief persona. Gradually Etienne grows heated because he does not have Rasseneur’s natural ability to speak. He is weak with words and repeatedly appeals to low wages, justice, slavery, and obscure questions of law. The crowd’s cheers roll up to him from the depths of the forest. Though they could not understand Etienne’s abstract reasoning, the very abstraction itself further propels and lifts them.

Rasseneur attempts to speak, but the crowd refuses to hear him. He is an overturned idol, and the mere sight of him angers his old disciples. Etienne preaches and speaks violently, and seeing Catherine present in the crowd invigorates him even more. Anyone who does not want to strike anymore is considered a traitor and a coward. The crowd says, “Kill the cowards!” There is some pushing. Maheude finds herself near Maheu. Etienne tells them that tomorrow they will go to the Jean-Bart mine and kill anyone who is working.


The ideological differences and feud between Etienne and Rasseneur becomes fully apparent as Rasseneur advocates for a more moderate and less violent approach to reform. To some degree, there are early signs that Etienne's desire for a strike has less to do with change and much more to do with gaining influence. He has tasted power, and his motivation to move forward with the strike is partly animated by his position as a clerk who tends to the niceties of the Providence Fund and the elaboration of the strike's ideological justification, and partly by the joy he has experienced as someone who others look up to.

Pluchart's late arrival to the meeting at Widow Desire's and his somewhat standoffish promises and behavior foreshadow the relative indifference that the Workmen's Association will later display regarding the strike. While there is hope for reform, the Association's impact and influence on the strike is rather negligible. There is some glimmer of hope on its behalf when Pluchart sends 4000 francs to help sustain the strike. However the money quickly runs out and the strikers are once again returned to vile, inhumane conditions of existence.

The tension between Chaval and Etienne escalates when Chaval attempts to create dissent within the crowd. Etienne quickly squanders his attempts and forces Chaval to support the strike. Rather than having the raucous crowd maim and punish Chaval, Etienne spares him.

The restraint and control of anger that Etienne shows alludes to his possession of both male and female characteristics. While characters like Chaval and Jeanlin are very masculine and characters like Madame Hennebeau and Philomene are very feminine, Etienne falls in between the two categories. He shows modesty, patience, and control but also anger, arrogance, and egoism. The complex nature of his mannerisms and personality also give way to the incredible transformation that he experiences over the course of the novel, from desperate and timid to confident and gluttonous for power. However the confidence soon becomes arrogance, and he does not head the warnings that Rasseneur gives about approaching reform conservatively.

At the same time, Etienne's inability to speak eloquently and move people with words like Rasseneur becomes very apparent. He gets flustered and in his anger appeals repeatedly to low wages, justice, slavery, and obscure questions of law. Nevertheless, the crowd’s cheers roll up to him from the depths of the forest. It is precisely the lack of understanding - the fact that this learned man is learned and so must be saying something worth cheering for - that gives Etienne power over the crowd. His violent and angry speech becomes the main form of political change for a lot that has seen the world care very little about it.