Les Misérables

by: Victor Hugo

“Saint-Denis,” Books One–Seven

Summary: Book Six: Little Gavroche

Back on the streets of Paris, Gavroche continues to practice his unique brand of street-smart philanthropy. He discovers two hungry, abandoned children and uses the little money he has to buy food for them, not realizing that they are his own younger brothers. Gavroche then runs into a woman who is freezing in the bitter cold and gives her enough of his own clothing to survive the night. Gavroche brings the two young boys to his makeshift home inside a giant statue of an elephant near the Bastille prison. Later that night, a number of criminals escape from prison, including his father, Thénardier. Gavroche rescues Thénardier from a rooftop, but his greedy father does not realize that his own son is the one helping him to escape.

Summary: Book Seven: Argot

The narrator devotes several pages to an exploration of the rich vocabulary and origins of Parisian street slang.

Analysis: Books One–Seven

Like the convent before it, Valjean and Cosette’s house in Saint-Germain is a sort of idyllic prison, a tranquil setting that creates tension between Cosette and Valjean. While Cosette no longer has to endure the severe discipline of the nuns, she no longer has any classmates to talk to and has only Valjean and the maid to keep her company. Valjean, on the other hand, appears to think all is well. Delighted to have Cosette all to himself and rid of the threat posed by Marius, he does not realize that his efforts to hold on to Cosette only make her more reluctant to stay with him. If anything, the isolated location of Saint-Germain leaves Cosette with more time to pine over Marius and realize her loneliness.

While Marius’s naïveté is sometimes charming, it also blinds him to Eponine’s feelings and makes him unwittingly insensitive and selfish. At times, his preoccupation with Cosette borders on addiction, resembling Javert’s obsessive pursuit of Valjean more than courtship. Marius is so focused on his love for Cosette that he ignores Eponine, and he goes so far as to recruit her as a kind of carrier pigeon between him and his true love. Without knowing it, Marius insults Eponine by trying to pay her for her services. Eponine’s response to this abuse is tragic, but we do feel some sense of encouragement in seeing a Thénardier act with such selflessness. Eponine’s attempts to ensure Marius’s happiness are both sad and noble, and they are clearly preferable to the cruel cynicism her family has taught her.

Hugo again critiques the French justice system by demonstrating the corruption of the Parisian prisons. He suggests that dangerous criminals such as the leaders of Patron-Minette can effectively move in and out of prison as they see fit, provided they have the right connections and enough money to bribe the prison guards. The ease with which the Parisian crime ring circumvents the justice system contrasts with the tragic circumstances of Valjean, whose petty theft brought him a life of hardship and fear. Harsh prison sentences such as Valjean’s can be justified only if the law comes down even more harshly on murderers. Hugo shows us that such is not the case, however. He implies that in French society justice is a resource like any other and that anyone who is well connected can exploit it at the expense of the unfortunate.


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