Éponine is the Thénardiers’ eldest daughter. Her parents spoil her greatly when she is a small child, and this special treatment prompts Éponine to become jealous and self-centered. Her carefree childhood in Montfermeil marks a stark contrast to her adolescence in Paris, where the family relocates after falling into poverty, going by the name “Jondrette.” There, her appearance becomes careworn, her voice raspy, from the hardships of poverty and a life of crime.

Éponine is in love with Marius, and so finds herself torn between the criminal underworld occupied by her father and the innocence and respectability—another world entirely, and one denied to her—that Marius represents. The intensity of her feelings complicates Marius’s romance with Cosette. As children, Éponine had no reason to be jealous of Cosette until the latter received an expensive doll from Valjean. This moment foreshadows Éponine’s later jealousy. Once again, Cosette has something Éponine desires—Marius’s love. Her unrequited feelings for Marius become a source of conflict, both in regards to the other characters and within herself; she wants to help Marius at all costs, but simultaneously can’t stand the thought of Marius being with Cosette. Éponine does help the pair by finding Cosette’s address for Marius, by attempting to dissuade her father and his criminal underlings from robbing the house, and by preventing them from doing so while Marius is there visiting, but in a key moment, Éponine’s desire for Marius outweighs her need to see him happy. She lures him to the barricade under false pretenses, hoping the two of them will die there together. When she takes the bullet meant for Marius, she confesses her love and the fact that it was she who led him here, and gives him the letter from Cosette she had previously withheld, in an effort to mitigate his anger; she doesn’t want him to be furious with her “when [they] meet again.”

Though she clearly possesses the ability and willingness to manipulate events and people, Éponine also possesses a capacity for love that distinguishes her from characters like her selfish, conniving father. It is her redemptive love for Marius that renders her sacrifice all the more tragic and underscores one of the novel’s main themes: the importance of love and compassion.