Les Misérables

by: Victor Hugo

“Marius,” Book Eight: The Noxious Poor

The robbery scene forces Marius to choose between his different allegiances. While the climax does not resolve all of these conflicts, it does give us insight into Marius’s character, especially his ability to find a middle ground. Marius does not, for instance, fire the pistol at the appointed moment since he does not want to betray his father’s dying wish that he assist Thénardier in any way possible, but he does throw Eponine’s letter into the Thénardiers’ apartment. This split-second decision indicates Marius’s newfound ability to balance his various allegiances while staying true to his own beliefs. While Marius does not betray Thénardier, he does prevent him from harming Valjean, whom Marius wishes to protect due to his love for Cosette. While Valjean and Javert are unyielding in their principles, Marius is more flexible and comes up with a way of thinking that is distinctly his own.

The Thénardiers’ intricate schemes against Valjean show how thoroughly jealousy drives their criminal behavior. Unable to feel love and compassion themselves, the Thénardiers retaliate by plotting against those who are capable of such emotions. Mme. Thénardier’s enraged reaction upon seeing that Cosette is better clothed than her own daughters represents her materialistic interpretation of the fact that Cosette is purer and more righteous than her children. Rather than try to learn how to become upstanding citizens themselves, the Thénardiers view respectability as an affront and try to drag Valjean and Cosette down to their own debased level of existence. The only members of the Thénardiers who do not suffer from these jealous urges are Gavroche, who no longer lives in the Thénardier household, and Eponine. Eponine’s visit to Marius at the beginning of Book Eight foreshadows the selflessness she displays later in the novel.

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