Short summary - Germinal - Émile Zola

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Germinal
Émile Zola

Mechanic Etienne Lantier, expelled from the railway for slapping his boss, is trying to get a job in the Monsu mine, which is near the town of Vore, in the village of Two Hundred Soroca. There is no work anywhere, the miners are starving. A place for him in the mine was found only because on the eve of his arrival in Vor, one of the haulers died. The old miner Mahe, whose daughter Katrina works with him in the mine as a second hauler, takes Lantier into his artel.
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job is unbearably difficult, and fifteen-year-old Katrina looks emaciated forever. Maheu, his son Zachariah, artels Levak and Chaval work, lying on their backs or on their sides, squeezing through a mine barely half a meter wide: the coal seam is thin. Unbearable stuffiness in the face. Katrina and Etienne roll the trolleys. On the very first day, Etienne decided to leave Vore: this daily hell is not for him. Before his eyes, the management of the company harassed the miners for the fact that they do not care about their own safety. The silent slavery of the miners amazes him. Only the look of Katrina, the memory of her, makes him stay in the village for some more time. Maheus live in unimaginable poverty. They always owe the shopkeeper, they do not have enough for bread, and Maheu's wife has no choice but to go with the children to the Piolena estate, owned by the landowners Gregoire. The Gregoires, co-owners of the mines, sometimes help the poor. The owners of the estate discover all signs of degeneration in Maheu and her children and, handing her a pair of old children's dresses, teach a lesson in frugality. When a woman asks for a hundred sous, she is refused: it is not in the Gregoire rules to serve. The children, however, are given a piece of bread. In the end, Maheu manages to soften the shopkeeper Megra - in response to a promise to send Katrina to him. While the men are working in the mine, the women are preparing dinner - a stew of sorrel, potatoes and leeks; Parisians who have come to inspect the mines and get acquainted with the life of the miners are touched by the generosity of the mine owners, who give the workers such cheap housing and supply all the mining families with coal.
One of the holidays in the mining family is washing: once a week, the entire Mahe family, without hesitation, takes turns dipping into a barrel of warm water and changing into clean clothes. Maheu then plays with his wife, calling his only entertainment "free dessert." Meanwhile, Katrina is harassed by the young Chaval: remembering her love for Etienne, she resists him, but not for long. In addition, Chaval bought her a ribbon. He took possession of Katrina in a barn outside the village.
Etienne gradually gets used to work, to his comrades, even to the rough simplicity of local customs: he now and then comes across lovers walking behind a dump, but Etienne believes that young people are free. He is outraged only by the love of Katrina and Chaval - he is unconsciously jealous. Soon he meets the Russian machinist Suvarin, who lives next door to him. Souvarine avoids talking about himself, and Etienne does not soon find out that he is dealing with a socialist populist. After fleeing Russia, Souvarine got a job at the company. Etienne decides to tell him about his friendship and correspondence with Plushard - one of the leaders of the labor movement, secretary of the northern federation of the International, which has just been created in London. Souvarine is skeptical of the International and of Marxism: he believes only in terror, in revolution, in anarchy and calls for burning cities, destroying the old world by all means. Etienne, on the other hand, dreams of organizing a strike, but it needs money - a mutual aid fund that would allow him to hold out even for the first time.
In August, Etienne moves to live with Maheu. He tries to captivate the head of the family with his ideas, and Maheu seems to begin to believe in the possibility of justice, but his wife immediately reasonably objects that the bourgeois will never agree to work like miners, and all talk about equality will forever remain nonsense. Maheu's notions of a just society boil down to a desire to live well, and this is no wonder - the company fines workers with might and main for non-observance of safety measures and is looking for any excuse to cut wages. Another cut in payments is the perfect excuse to strike. The head of the Mahe family, receiving a shamelessly cut salary, is also reprimanded for talking to his tenant about politics - this has already been rumored. Toussaint Mahe, an old miner, only has enough to nod in fear. He himself is ashamed of his own stupid obedience. A cry of poverty spreads throughout the village. At the new site where the Mahe family works, it becomes more and more dangerous - either an underground source will hit in the face, or the coal layer will be so thin that you can only move in the mine by scraping your elbows. Soon, the first collapse in Etienne's memory occurs, in which Maheu's youngest son Jeanlin broke both legs. Etienne and Maheu understand that there is nothing more to lose: only the worst is ahead. It's time to go on strike.
The director of the Enbo mines is informed that no one has come to work. Etienne and several of his comrades formed a delegation to negotiate with the hosts. Maheu also entered it. Pierron, Levac and delegates from other villages went with him. The miners' demands are insignificant: they insist that they be paid only five sous for the trolley. Enbo tries to cause a split in the deputation and speaks of someone's nefarious suggestion, but not a single miner from Monsu is still a member of the International. Etienne begins to speak on behalf of the miners - he alone is able to argue with Enbo. Etienne in the end directly threatens that sooner or later the workers will have to resort to other measures in order to defend their lives. The mines' management refuses to make concessions, which finally embitters the miners. The entire village is running out of money, but Etienne is convinced that the strike must be held to the last. Plushir promises to come to the Thief and help with money, but hesitates. Finally, Etienne waited for him. The miners gather for a meeting with the widow Desir. The owner of the tavern, Rasseneur, is in favor of ending the strike, but the miners tend to trust Etienne more. Plushard, considering strikes to be too slow a means of struggle, takes the floor and urges to continue striking all the same. The police commissioner with four gendarmes prohibits the meeting, but, warned by the widow, the workers manage to disperse in time. Pluchard promised to send a manual. The company's board, meanwhile, had a plan to fire the most stubborn strikers and those it deemed instigators.
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Etienne is gaining more and more influence on workers. Soon he completely supplants their former leader - the moderate and cunning Rasseneur, and he predicts the same fate for him over time. An old man named Bessmertny at a regular meeting of miners in the forest recalls how fruitlessly his comrades protested and died half a century ago. Etienne speaks more passionately than ever. The meeting decides to continue the strike. Only the mine in Jean-Bart works for the whole company, the local miners are declared traitors and they decide to teach them a lesson. Arriving in Jean-Bart, workers from Montsou begin to cut the ropes - by this they force the miners to leave the mines. Katrina and Chaval, who live and work in Jean-Bart, also go upstairs. A fight breaks out between the strikers and strikebreakers. The company's management calls the police and the army - dragoons and gendarmes. In response, the workers begin to destroy the mines. The uprising is gaining strength, spreading like fire through the mines. Singing the Marseillaise, the crowd goes to Monsu, to the board. Enbo is lost. Miners rob the shop of Megra, who died while trying to save his property. Chaval brings in the gendarmes, and Katrina barely has time to warn Etienne not to fall for them. Police and soldiers are deployed in all the mines this winter, but work is not being resumed anywhere. The strike covers more and more mines. Etienne finally waited for a direct skirmish with the traitor Chaval, for whom Katrina had long been jealous, and won: Chaval was forced to yield to her and flee.
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Meanwhile, Jeanlin, the youngest of Maheu,, although limping on both legs, learned to run quite briskly, rob and shoot with a sling. He was dismayed by the desire to kill the soldier - and he killed him with a knife, jumping like a cat from behind, unable to explain his hatred. The clash between the miners and the soldiers becomes inevitable. The miners themselves went to bayonets, and, although the soldiers were ordered to use weapons only as a last resort, shots were soon heard. The miners throw mud and bricks at the officers, the soldiers respond with firing and with the first shots they kill two children: Lydia and Beber. Murdered by Mouquette, in love with Etienne, murdered by Toussaint Mahe. The workers are terribly frightened and depressed. Soon, representatives of the authorities from Paris arrive in Monsu. Etienne begins to feel guilty of all these deaths, ruin, violence, and at this moment Rasseneur again becomes the leader of the miners, demanding reconciliation. Etienne decides to leave the village and meets with Souvarine, who tells him the story of the death of his wife, who was hanged in Moscow.Since then, Souvarine has neither affection nor fear. After hearing this terrible story, Etienne returns home to spend his last night in the village with the Maheu family. Souvarine goes to the mine, where the workers are going to return, and saws off one of the cladding clamps that protect the mine from the underground sea - "Stream". In the morning, Etienne learns that Katrina is also going to the mine. Yielding to a sudden impulse, Etienne goes there with her: love makes him stay in the village for one more day. By evening, the stream broke through the skin. Soon the water burst to the surface, exploding everything with its powerful movement. At the bottom of the mine, old man Mook, Chaval, Etienne and Katrina were left abandoned. Chest-deep in water, they are trying to get out into a dry mine, wandering in underground labyrinths. Here is the last skirmish between Etienne and Chaval: Etienne has split the skull of the eternal rival. Together with Katrina, Etienne manages to scrape out a kind of bench in the wall, on which they sit above the stream rushing along the bottom of the mine. They spend three days underground, waiting for death and not hoping for salvation, but suddenly someone's blows are heard through the thickness of the earth: they are making their way to them, they are being saved! Here, in the darkness, in a mine, on a tiny strip of firmament, Etienne and Katrina merge in love for the first and last time. After that, Katrina is forgotten, and Etienne listens to the approaching aftershocks: the rescuers have reached them. When they were brought to the surface, Katrina was already dead.
Having recovered, Etienne leaves the village. He says goodbye to the widow Maheu, who, having lost her husband and daughter, goes to work in the mine as a hauler. In all the mines that have recently been on strike, work is in full swing. And the dull blows of the kyle, it seems to Etienne, are heard from under the blossoming spring earth and accompany his every step.