“Here, I am going to write something to show you.”
. . . [S]he wrote on a sheet of blank paper . . . “The cops are here.”
This snippet describes Eponine’s excitement in Book Eight of “Marius” as she tries to impress Marius at the Gorbeau House. This incident gives us insight into the Thénardiers’ circumstances and the importance that Hugo placed on education and literacy. It is significant that Eponine chooses to write the phrase “The cops are here” as proof that she is literate, since it shows that she considers this an ordinary catchphrase; clearly, law enforcement is a regular presence in the Thénardiers’ lives. The great pride that Eponine takes in the fact that she can write emphasizes that most other women of Eponine’s social standing cannot. Throughout the novel, Hugo places great importance on literacy—in a few instances, in fact, being able to read or write makes the difference between falling prey to and avoiding catastrophe. Earlier in the novel, we see illiteracy lead to Fantine’s exposure and subsequent loss of her job. Now, Eponine’s nonchalant scribbling thwarts Thénardier’s ambush and saves Valjean. In both instances, Hugo turns the ability to write into more than just an educational asset, suggesting that, when we least expect it, writing can make the difference between life and death.