Chapter 1 The narrator notes that all human societies have a “third lower floor,” a theatrical phrase that means certain minerals under the “ground” of civilization—a religious, economic, or revolutionary mine that can eventually break into the light. The future emerges from these excavations, which hold all the past’s great thinkers. Below these mines and galleries is the grave of shadows, a cellar of the blind.
Through this theatrical metaphor, the narrator emphasizes how “darkness” collects and is deposited “underground,” because topographically it is located “beneath” light. This suggests that light and darkness do not exist in entirely different planes, but that one can break into the other.
Chapter 2 There, closest to hell, roam specters and phantoms whose life is ignorance and misery. In the upper mines are revolutionary and political excavations, all purity, honesty, and progress, but this cavern of evil must also be understood, as it seeks to destroy all others, undermining civilization, human thought, revolution, and progress. A lower layer is theft, prostitution, and murder. The only true social peril is darkness, further blackened by ignorance.
The narrator’s conception of the lower “floors” of civilization recalls Dante’s Inferno, in which various categories of evil are placed in a hierarchy, some considered better or worse than others. The narrator is eager to stress how some evil can bear a relation to good, whereas other aspects cannot.
Chapter 3 The leaders of Paris’s lower floor at this time are ruffians called Claquesous, Gueulemer, Babet, and Montparnasse. Gueulemer is massive and idle; Babet thin, chatty, and thoughtless; Claquesous only emerges at night; and Montparnasse is a child, sluggish and effeminate, embracing robbery and murder: a “dandy of the sepulcher.”
The narrator positions these men firmly below political revolutionaries (who may nevertheless also be violent) in his hierarchy of good and evil. That these figures are men of the night only emphasizes the link between darkness and evil.
Chapter 4 These ruffians are described as a robber with four heads operating throughout Paris, assembling at nightfall in their group, “Patron-Minette,” which in the slang of the time means “morning,” the time when their activities end. Others have joined the group, all with various nicknames. These kinds of men have always existed: they seem less men than beasts, only destructible through light.
Individually, each of these characters clings to the darkness, but through the metaphor of the robber with four heads, the narrator suggests that it is by joining together that they truly locate themselves in the darkness and forbid any light from entering their activities.