adopted father. Valjean is an ex-convict who leaves behind a life
of hatred and deceit and makes his fortune with his innovative industrial
techniques. He finds fulfillment in loving his adopted daughter
and helping people who are in difficult situations, even when it
means risking his own life and welfare. Valjean adopts pseudonyms
to evade the police and combines a convict’s street smarts with
his newfound idealism and compassion. His whole life is a quest
for redemption, and he ultimately finds bliss on his deathbed.
in-depth analysis of Jean Valjean.
daughter, who lives as Valjean’s adopted daughter after her mother
dies. Cosette spends her childhood as a servant for the Thénardiers
in Montfermeil, but even this awful experience does not make her
hardened or cynical. Under the care of Valjean and the nuns of Petit-Picpus,
Cosette ultimately blossoms into a beautiful, educated young woman.
She finds fulfillment in her love for Marius. Cosette is innocent
and docile, but her participation in Valjean’s many escapes from
the law show that she also possesses intelligence and bravery.
in-depth analysis of Cosette.
police inspector who strictly believes in law and order and will
stop at nothing to enforce France’s harsh penal codes. Javert is
incapable of compassion or pity, and performs his work with such
passion that he takes on a nearly animal quality when he is on the
chase. He nurses an especially strong desire to recapture Valjean, whose
escapes and prosperity he sees as an affront to justice. Ultimately,
Javert is unable to say with certainty that Valjean deserves to
be punished. This ambiguity undermines the system of belief on
which Javert bases his life and forces him to choose between hypocrisy
in-depth analysis of Javert.
working-class girl who leaves her hometown of Montreuil-sur-mer
to seek her fortune in Paris. Fantine’s innocent affair with a dapper
student named Tholomyès leaves her pregnant and abandoned. Although
she is frail, she makes a Herculean effort to feed herself and her
daughter, Cosette. Even as she descends into prostitution, she never
stops caring for Cosette. She represents the destruction that nineteenth-century
French society cruelly wreaks on the less fortunate.
in-depth analysis of Fantine.
The son of Georges Pontmercy, a colonel in Napoléon’s
army. Marius grows up in the home of his grandfather, M. Gillenormand,
a monarchist. Marius has an identity crisis when he learns the real
reason for his separation from his father, and this crisis sets
him on the path to discovering himself. An innocent young man, Marius
is nonetheless capable of great things and manages both to fight
on the barricades and successfully court the love of his life, Cosette.
in-depth analysis of Marius Pontmercy.
bishop of Digne. M. Myriel is a much-admired clergyman whose great
kindness and charity have made him popular throughout his parish.
He passes on these same qualities to Valjean and initiates the ex-convict’s spiritual
renewal by saving Valjean from arrest and making him promise to
live as an honest man.
cruel, wretched, money-obsessed man who first appears as Cosette’s
keeper and tormentor. Thénardier extorts money from whomever he
can, and he frequently serves as an informant to whoever will bid the
highest. His schemes range from robbery to fraud to murder, and
he has strong ties to the criminal underworld in Paris. Blinded
by greed, Thénardier is incapable of loving other human beings and
spends every minute in pursuit of money.
M. Thénardier’s wife. Mme. Thénardier is just as evil
as her husband and takes special pleasure in abusing Cosette. In
later years, she becomes her husband’s most devoted accomplice and
is particularly enthusiastic about his schemes to rob Valjean and Cosette.
Thénardiers’ eldest daughter. Eponine is a wretched creature who
helps her parents steal, but she is eventually redeemed by her love
for Marius. She proves that no one is beyond redemption, and she ultimately
emerges as one of the novel’s most tragic and heroic figures.
Marius’s ninety-year-old maternal grandfather. Gillenormand
prevents Marius from seeing his father, Georges Pontmercy, because
he fears that Pontmercy will corrupt Marius. A devout monarchist, Gillenormand
rejects the French Revolution outright and also rejects Pontmercy’s
Napoléonic beliefs. Although Gillenormand’s classist views sometimes offend
Marius, he truly loves his grandson and ultimately does what is
necessary to make Marius happy.
Thénardiers’ oldest son. Gavroche is kicked out of the house at
an early age and becomes a Parisian street urchin. He is a happy-go-lucky
child who enjoys the small pleasures of life and demonstrates unusual generosity
toward those even less fortunate than he is. He is also fierce and
brave, and plays a decisive role in the barricade even though he
does not have a gun.
Colonel Georges Pontmercy
An officer in Napoléon’s army and Marius’s father.
Pontmercy is severely wounded at the Battle of Waterloo, and mistakenly
believing that Thénardier has saved his life, he asks that Marius honor
this debt. Although we know little about Pontmercy’s personal life,
his politics greatly influence the young Marius.
leader of the Friends of the ABC. Enjolras is a radical student
revolutionary. He is both wild and beautiful. Together with Courfeyrac
and Marius, Enjolras leads the insurrection at the barricade.
critic of Valjean’s while Valjean is the mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer
under the assumed name of Madeleine. Fauchelevent becomes indebted
to Valjean when Valjean saves him from a carriage accident. When
they meet again years later, Fauchelevent returns the favor by hiding
Valjean and Cosette in a convent.
small boy whom Valjean robs shortly after leaving Digne.
poor, uneducated man who unfortunately resembles Valjean so much
that he is identified, tried, and almost convicted as Valjean. Champmathieu proves
to be too dim-witted to defend himself successfully, revealing the
callousness of the French justice system.
churchwarden in Paris who tells Marius the truth about his father.
Mabeuf and Marius become friends during tough times, and Mabeuf
later dies a heroic death on the barricade.
four people, Patron-Minette is a Parisian crime ring so close-knit
that its four members—Montparnasse, Babet, Claquesous, and Gueulemer—are
described as four heads of the same violent beast. Patron-Minette
controls all the crime in one section of Paris and assists in the
Thénardiers’ ambush of Valjean.
Fantine’s lover in Paris. Tholomyès is a wealthy student
who thinks much less of his relationship with Fantine than she does.
He gets Fantine pregnant and then abandons her as a joke. Tholomyès
is Cosette’s biological father, although the two never meet.
Thénardiers’ younger daughter. Azelma grows up pampered and spoiled
but ends up enduring the same poverty as the rest of her family.