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The government troops arrive and shoot down the revolutionary flag. Mabeuf climbs over the barricade to raise the flag once again, but the army shoots him dead. The students condemn Javert to death, but they keep him alive in the hopes of exchanging him for a revolutionary that the army is holding hostage. When they hear this revolutionary being executed, Enjolras decides that they will execute Javert ten minutes before the barricade falls. The soldiers attack the barricade and Marius shows up just in time to save Courfeyrac and Gavroche. Marius drives away the troops by threatening to blow up the barricade.
The fighting quickly becomes chaotic and Marius just barely avoids being killed. The mysterious young laborer, who is Eponine in disguise, saves Marius’s life by throwing herself in front of a soldier’s rifle. Eponine crawls toward Marius and confesses her love to him. She hands Marius a letter from Cosette and dies. After kissing Eponine’s lifeless face, Marius reads the letter, in which Cosette reveals her whereabouts. Marius writes Cosette a letter telling her he will die on the barricades and bidding her farewell. Marius sends Gavroche to deliver the news.
Gavroche runs through the streets with Marius’s letter. Valjean intercepts the boy and says that he will deliver the letter to Cosette himself. Gavroche is scornful at first, then feels sympathy for the old man and gives him the letter. Valjean asks Gavroche where the barricade is. The boy answers and runs off into the night. When Valjean reads the letter, he at first rejoices that Marius will soon cease to be a threat to his happiness. Valjean’s decency soon takes over, however, and, dressed as a member of the National Guard, he heads toward the barricade.
Though she is a Thénardier and has a criminal record, Eponine emerges in this section as one of the most virtuous figures in the novel. Her love for Marius leads her to serve as a messenger between Marius and her rival, Cosette, and she takes this thankless task further when she helps protect Cosette. Eponine tries to divert Patron-Minette’s attention away from Valjean’s house, putting her own safety at risk when she threatens to wake up the whole neighborhood if Thénardier and his cronies break into the house. Likewise, Eponine urges Valjean to move away when she becomes aware that her father is planning another attack. Ultimately, her love for Marius results in her death when she throws herself in front of a rifle to save him. Eponine, who grows up in the unloving environment of the Thénardier household, is a tragic figure. The fact that the daughter of a couple as despicable as the Thénardiers is capable of such love and selflessness implies that anyone—regardless of his or her upbringing or social status—can rise above terrible circumstances and become virtuous.
Marius’s failed reconciliation with his grandfather highlights the social prejudices that Hugo sought to combat by writing Les Misérables. Upon hearing that Marius wants to marry a girl who possesses neither a dowry nor any apparent income, Gillenormand suggests that an affair might be more appropriate than marriage. In his mind, lower-class women have nothing to offer other than their bodies, and he advises Marius accordingly. Though offensive, Gillenormand’s suggestion might seem harmless if it were not for the fact that it reminds us of Tholomyès’s behavior. Tholomyès, Cosette’s father, is an upper-class student who holds the same cavalier views toward lower-class women as Gillenormand does, and his behavior has disastrous effects for the women with whom he is involved. Tholomyès’s affair with Fantine, for example, starts her on the road to prostitution and incarceration. Marius’s horrified response to his grandfather’s suggestion distinguishes Marius as a man of honor and gives us some faith in the morals of upper-class students. Gillenormand’s proposal reveals the callous attitude of the upper class toward the working poor and shows us that Tholomyès’s behavior would have been applauded and condoned by the other men in his upper-class world.
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