Germinal Summary and Analysis of Part 7


For four days, all opposition journals write about the atrocities that happened at the Voreux. Levaque becomes a hero, and the Company receives an official intimation from the government to hush up the affair. The Company also searches for the missing sentinel (Jules) and officially declares that he deserted his patrol group. After the battle, Maheude allows Etienne to bring Catherine back. Maheude looks at Etienne and Catherine with spite, as though she were asking them what they are doing in her house.

The days begin to pass by as before, always without bread and now also without hope. Nothing has changed in their existence, except for the absence of Maheu. Etienne feels a sense of animosity from the miners as he walks about the settlement. This is amplified by his return to the Maheus. Catherine offers to return to the pits but Maheude angrily lashes out at her. Etienne and Maheude have drifted to opposite ideological and practical ends. Etienne is irritated to see the miners so unintelligent and barbarous that they want to revenge themselves on him for the logic of facts. He feels disgust at his powerlessness to tame them again. He runs out of the settlement and encounters Old Mouque and Chaval, both of whom hurl insults and stones at him. Rasseneur pulls him into his tavern, and Rasseneur convinces the miners about the inefficacy of violence and the importance of moderate approaches to change. The miners show enthusiasm for him and shout hurrahs in his name. On the same day, there is a great dinner at Piolaine, where the Hennebeaus and Gregoires are celebrating the betrothal of Negrel and Cecile.

On that Sunday, Etienne escapes from the settlement at nightfall. He goes down towards the canal in the direction of Marchiennes. He is surprised to see Souvarine along the way, and they both head over to Marchiennes. The next morning, the Company forgives the strikers, even those who are most implicated. Souvarine says that everyone will end up going down again, and that they are all too cowardly. Step by step the miners are returning to the mine. Souvarine shocks Etienne by telling him that he has asked for his working certificate back and is leaving. As he walks along the canal bank, he stops at the Voreux. He quickly ascertains the condition of the tubbing and of the recent repairs (as a result of the damage caused by the strikers).

Souvarine discovers a very serious defect in a rub of tubbing (which keeps the water out of the mine) and unscrews the squares that kept the water out. He also sabotages the oak guides along which the lifts slide. He has done enough damage to not raise alarm, as excessive damage would have been repaired immediately. On the other hand, Etienne is unable to sleep, and Catherine wakes up around three o’clock to head to the pit for work. Etienne follows her. Souvarine stands near the L’Avantage and watches the colliers who are returning to work. He is shocked to see Etienne and tells him to go back home. Etienne refuses, and when Souvarine sees Catherine he realizes that Etienne’s heart is beholden to her. There is nothing he can do to convince Etienne. He lets him go and bids him farewell.

Catherine sees Chaval upon entering the mine. Chaval, Catherine, and Etienne all descend as part of the same crew. After a few hours of work, the workers begin to hear strange noises and distant rushes. The tubbing begins to fall, and then a mass of water rushes down. Dansaert proposes to go back up and examine the issue, but before he can workers from every gallery come rushing, trying to take the cages by assault. One cage becomes useless and the other is jarred to such a degree that the cable will certainly break soon. Dansaert and some of the captains make it back up where he meets Negrel, who is furious that he has left workers down in the pit. Before Negrel can close the pit, the workers who made it out go to the settlement to tell the families. The women come running to Negrel and ask for the names of those still in the pit.

M. Hennebeau arrives, and after about two hours announces that a rescue will be attempted. However fearing that the pit will cave in, Hennebeau delays the rescue. Soon the crater is filled and a lake of muddy water occupies the place where the Voreux once stood. Then on the shaken pit-bank, Souvarine rises up and recognizes Maheude and Zacharie, who are crying. He throws down his last cigarette and goes away without looking back.

Dansaert is immediately fired within the next few days, and Negrel is made head of the rescue effort. Negrel and his men, who include Zacharie, spend days underground trying to dig out the survivors. However on the ninth day, Zacharie - impatient and irritated by the lack of light in the tunnel they are digging - opens his lamp and inadvertently lets out various flammable fumes in the unventilated passage. Suddenly, the rescuers above ground hear a roar of thunder and a spout of fire darts out of the tube. Everything flames up and the air catches fire like powder, from one end of the gallery to the other. Zacharie dies in the process, along with a captain and two other workers.

The Gregoires decide to visit the settlement as an act of charity. When the Gregoires enter the Maheus house they do not initially see the sleeping Bonnemort. Levaque’s wife leads the Gregoires into her own home and leaves Cecile alone with Bonnemort. He strangles her to death in the ten minutes that they are away.

At the bottom of the pits, Catherine and Etienne try to find their way out. However as they are stuck together in a passageway, Chaval attempts to force himself on Catherine and abuses her. The need to kill seizes Etienne irresistibly, and he grabs a very large, heavy sheet of slate in the wall. Then with both hands and with exaggerated strength he brings it down on Chaval’s skull, which crushes his skull and crushes his face. Catherine is shocked, but Etienne manages to calm her down. They spend days in starvation while sitting on a raised part of the tunnel because of the rising water. They see Chaval’s body floating and push it away. They have sex, and a little while later Catherine dies.

The rescue team finds Etienne. When Etienne is pulled out after some of the corpses, after being accustomed to the lamps and fed little, he appears fleshless. People turn away and shudder at him. Maheude cries. Etienne talks to her later, and she says that Jeanlin is working for twenty sous. She receives thirty sous as she has begun working at Jean-Bart. Levaque is still in prison. Etienne sets off for Paris, where he aspires to meet up with Pluchart and dreams of giving speeches and fighting for the working-class cause.


Souvarine’s sabotage of the mine is both an act of rebirth and destruction. The destruction of the mine allows the miners to envision new possibilities - which are quickly quelled by the existence of other mines. Souvarine wounds the Voreux “in the belly.” That the Voreux was intentionally destroyed will become clear in the aftermath. Souvarine enacts his anarchism because he sees no hope of changing how the workers live. He is disappointed in the outcome of the strike. The outcome convinces Souvarine all the more that radical intervention is necessary, and that those who settle for anything less - particularly those who go back down - are part of the problem and deserve to die.

The irony in Souvarine’s solution is that those who suffer should also die. The rebirth of a new society depends on the sacrifice of not just the oppressors, but also the oppressed. At the same time, he understands that no matter what the struggle - unless it is utter chaos and usurpation - miners will still go down and oppress themselves.

Where the Voreux disappears, Jean-Bart fills in. Hennebeau wants to save the engine and the remainder of the buildings, but they too fall into the ground. Everything in the Voreux, from the engine to the boiler buildings, has been swallowed whole by the ground. All has returned to what it once was.

The murder of Cecile is also an anarchic moment in the novel. Bonnemort’s anger at the delicate, plump, and innocent Cecile represents his attempt to completely change the state of affairs. This girl had to pay for her privilege with her life. Her parents suffer a worse fate: they have to live with her death, the death of the most precious thing in their lives. For Bonnemort, it is the ultimate act of rebellion. No strike, not matter how long, could have delivered the blows of revenge more than the murder of Cecile. This is especially true in the context of the Gregoires because their greed is not as great as that of Deneulin or Hennebeau.

Finally, the love saga between Catherine and Etienne comes to a climax and also to a close. It is very short lived, but it is as if the release of the sexual tension between Catherine and Etienne was what finally allowed Catherine to die in peace. The starvation, heat strokes, and brutal working conditions more broadly certainly contributed to her deteriorating health towards the end. But it was the lack of opportunity to express genuine love that prevented those conditions from killing her initially. To be able to come into sexual union with Etienne allowed Catherine to liberate her soul. She knew her time had come, but a kind of metaphysical, divine extravagance did not let her die until she had made manifest her passion, attraction, and love for Etienne.