Deneulin is woken at four in the morning and is told that the miners at Jean-Bart are rebelling. Half of them are not working and will not let the other half go down into the mine. Chaval has successfully convinced his fellow miners (he now works at Jean-Bart) to follow the miners at the Voreux. Chaval refuses to let Catherine out of bed and tells her to stay. Deneulin arrives and attempts to better understand why the miners are angry. Chaval speaks up and demands an increase in pay. Deneulin explains his struggle with Montsou and his own financial burdens. The crowd refuses to give in, and Deneulin calls in Chaval for a talk.
Chaval quickly realizes that if he continues to be on strike he will, at best, be Etienne’s lieutenant. In working with Deneulin, he has a chance of moving up the ranks of bosses. He promises to calm his mates, and after a little back and forth Chaval convinces them to go down. At once movement begins again in the pit. Later that morning Madame Hennebeau, Négrel, and Cecil arrive in a carriage to pick up Deneulin’s daughters Lucie and Jeanne for a lunch with the manager of the Forges and a visit to the workshops and neighboring glassworks. Négrel acts as a tour guide, explaining the different things they see. At Jean-Bart, Catherine, Chaval, and their fellow miners have already been at work for an hour. In the blazing heat of the mine’s furnace, Catherine takes off all of her clothes. Chaval curses at her to work faster, but at one point she faints. Chaval is frightened to find her so limp. He is able to bathe her face in water, and she comes to. They have a moment of intimate affection that surprises Catherine and reaffirms her commitment to Chaval. They begin to eat lunch and a captain tells them that the Montsou men are cutting the cables. All the miners scramble to the ladders, and after a punishing climb up hundreds of meters on ladder Catherine and Chaval manage to make it out.
That morning at nine o’clock, the miners set out for Jean-Bart. Deneulin finds everything in good order at the pit after having watched the disappearance of the carriage that held his daughters and Négrel and company. Deneulin sees the crowd approaching, and Etienne emerges from it to ask Deneulin to bring the workers back up. Deneulin refuses, and the crowd attempts to kill him. Deneulin barricades himself in the captains’ room. The miners go to the boiler and put out the fires and cut the cables that held the cages that brought down the workers to the mine. The fires are extinguished, and men begin to come up from below. Etienne is astonished to see that so many workers had gone down, and immediately reprimands Chaval when he comes out of the ground for betraying him. He forces Chaval to come with the crowd to the rest of the mines. In two minutes, Jean-Bart is emptied, and Deneulin comes out of the captains’ room pale and very calm.
With Etienne assuming command of the mob, it moves on from Jean-Bart. Soon it begins to cry for bread, and six weeks of hunger have left it ravenous. Etienne keeps his head, and a Vandame pikeman who joins the band for revenge on his master convinces the mob to go to the Gaston-Mirou mine. But an old, respected miner and guardsman by the name of Father Quandieu refuses to bring the miners up. A great shock carries the mob away, and Etienne seizes Chaval as he tries to escape. They go to various mines, and at the Victoire they destroy its equipment and infrastructure. Etienne, having emptied his tin, is able to refill it with gin. Little by little a terrible drunkenness inflames his eyes.
The mob arrives at Gaston-Marie and breaks everything. The police had passed here an hour ago, and had gone off to Saint Thomas, led astray by some peasants. The fires are overturned, the boilers are emptied, and the buildings are torn down. At one point they all begin to abuse Chaval by forcing him to drink water from an ice-cold lake; one woman pulls his ears; another woman throws a handful of dung she finds on the road. Maheu pushes him, and Maheude is among those who grow furious. Etienne tells them to stop, and Catherine is terrified. She calls Chaval’s abusers cowards, and she tells them to kill her as well. She plants herself before Chaval to defend him. Immediately Chaval goes away, and Catherine gallops behind him. The mob again begins to demand bread.
Danseart arrives at M. Hannebaeu’s to give him an update. Five messengers including Danseart tells him all that has happened at the various mines. He grows more anxious – thinking that the strike that should have lasted only two weeks (it has been two months at this point) is becoming more problematic by the moment. At five o’clock that evening, Hennebeau hears the strikers demanding bread outside his home. Just then, two kilometers away, Madame Hennebeau and the young ladies see the passing of the mob. Cecil has a whim to drink a glass of milk, as she notices a little farm near the edge of the road. They go inside, and the young girls are astonished to suddenly see the shouting band that was moving along the Vandame road. Negrel sees that it is too late to get into the carriage and reach Montsou and orders the coachman to bring the carriage inside the farmyard, where it can remain hidden behind a shed. Negrel tells the girls and his aunt to stay put. They wait for the crowd to pass by, and set out. The Gregoires receive a threatening letter but think nothing of it. They see Maigrat boarding up his shop. The mobsters verbally abuse Hennebeau, who thinks of how miserable his own life is, how the mobsters have no conception of the difficulties that he endures. He cries and repeatedly calls the mobsters idiots.
Catherine slaps Etienne, which sobers him up. He is worried about how violent things have gotten, and Rasseneur pulls him aside once they get to Montsou to tell him that this was going to happen. Nobody obeys Etienne any longer, and the mob continues to throw stones at the houses in Montsou. The mob suddenly stops when it sees the Gregoires arrive at Hennebeau’s place: they think that the whole thing is a joke on the part of the miners, who allow them to enter the garden and then the house. Hennebeau receives them coldly and tells them that the ladies have not come back yet. This worries the Gregoires. They sit for dinner, and Maigrat arrives as well. He is terrified, having barred up his shop and leaving his wife at home. He hears the mob calling his name, knowing he will be cut into pieces if he goes back out.
Hippolyte, the servant, appears and tells Hennebeau that the mob is killing Madame Hennebeau. The carriage had not been able to pass through the group. As Negrel is pushing the ladies into the front door, Cecile is mistakenly taken by the crowd (which mistakes her for Madame Hennebeau). The women seize Cecile, who begs for mercy. Etienne attempts to force the band to let go of her, and distracts them by telling them to go to Maigrat’s house, where there is bread. Etienne gives the first blow with an axe to Maigrat’s shop. But the women are furious and will not let Cecile go: Deneulin shows up on horseback and saves Cecile.
Maigrat leaves the hall of Hennebeau’s house and at first takes refuge in the kitchen. But imagining an abominable attempt against his shop, he goes outside to see what the mobsters are doing to his property. He is not going to let them complete his ruin. This love of his property struggles against his fear, but on hearing a deeper blow of the axe, he makes up his mind. He and his wife cover the sacks with their bodies rather than abandon a single loaf. The mob sees Maigrat on the roof of his shed. Suddenly both of his hands let go at once, and he rolls down like a ball. He rebounds on the side of the road, where his skull breaks open on the corner of a stone pillar. He is dead, stupefying the crowd. Etienne stops short, and the axe slips from his hands.
At once the hooting begins again, and the women rush forward, overcome with the drunkenness of blood. They sadistically and ferociously abuse his body, ripping his penis off, putting it on a stick, and holding it up as a sign of victory over Maigrat’s sexual abuses of the settlement’s women. Neither Etienne nor Maheu had the time to interfere, and the rest of the mob looks on in frozen horror. Catherine comes to warn them that the gendarmes are coming. There is a general breaking up, so mad a rush for life that in two minutes the road is free and absolutely clear.
The strike is in full swing, and the violence the mob visits upon miners who choose to go down, the soldiers holding down the mine, the managers, Maigrat, and even Cecile shows Zola's attempt to give these wretched souls an opportunity to rise above the miserable conditions they live in. Their actions are a manifestation of what they choose to do when presented with an opportunity to effect social and political change, to offer a better vision of the future. The process is clearly gruesome: Maigrat's mutilation and pillaging by the women is a visceral reaction to the sexual harassment he repeatedly subjected them to.
What the women do shocks everyone, including Etienne and even the most fervent and violent of the male protestors. The incident reveals the hidden pains and frustrations that the women have had to hold in. Zola's vivid description gives the reader some interpretive freedom to assess the significance of the women's actions beyond simple retribution. They attempt to eradicate difference in the way they are treated by reacting in an overzealous way.
Though Maigrat is already dead when the women begin taking him apart, they take the chance to express their own freedom. This freedom to allow the outflow of all the wrongs that Maigrat had committed and the shock that the onlookers show also speaks to how indifferent the male miners and bourgeois owners have been to the daily struggles of the women in the settlement. The difficulties they experience are not simply different in degree, but also in kind.
While the terrible working conditions of the mine are terrible and immediately apparent to the reader, the extent to which the women have to scavenge for food and sustenance in light of scarce resources and little pay is equally difficult and disheartening. The increased awareness of politics and the agency to move outside preconceived boundaries of sociopolitical conduct illuminates the behavior that these women exhibit. In that moment, they no long confer to authority or show any kind of compromise in front of others - even their spouses and children.
Moreover the Gregoires' arrogance comes to haunt them when, despite having received a letter warning them of the mob headed to the Hennebeaus, they are dismissive and think everything will be alright. They have little idea of how close Cecile comes to death at the hands of the mob, which is why they are so shocked to see their fantasy shatter as the rioters begin to rip and tear at Cecile's body and clothes. Luckily for them, she comes out unharmed physically, but the illusion that the Gregoires have been living with has thoroughly been demystified by the mob. They begin to see that the anger of the poor, ungrateful brutes is real.