Marius meets a group of fellow law students who, like him, are becoming increasingly involved in politics at the expense of their studies. One of these students, Courfeyrac, becomes Marius’s neighbor and introduces him to a secret political society called the Friends of the ABC. Led by the fiery Enjolras, the group believes ardently in social change. Marius thinks he has found an outlet for his political frustrations. One day, however, he argues with the other members of the group over Napoléon. Marius defends Napoléon and calls his empire a glorious episode in French history, while the other members are more interested in absolute democratic freedom.
Disappointed by the Friends of the ABC, Marius quits the group and begins to live on his own. He passes his law exams with flying colors but continues to live in utter poverty. He saves money however he can, but he often finds it is not enough. Marius’s grandfather misses him and his aunt often tries to send him money, but he refuses to accept his family’s support. The narrator concludes that poverty has been a blessing in disguise for Marius: freed from social obligations, he has been able to see what kind of man he really is. He becomes friends with the churchwarden, Mabeuf, who helps him through difficult times by getting him a job at a bookstore.
Despite his poverty, Marius develops into an attractive young man who often turns women’s heads as he walks down the street. He is indifferent to women, however, until the day he sees Cosette sitting next to the elderly Valjean on a park bench in the Luxembourg Gardens. Marius is inexplicably drawn to her and goes to the gardens every day to catch a glimpse of her. He does not know Cosette’s name, so he calls her “Lanoire,” a nickname (coined by Courfeyrac) which means “the black one,” because of her dark clothes. Courfeyrac has dubbed her companion “Leblanc,” (“the white one”) because of Valjean’s white hair.
After a six-month absence, Marius returns to the gardens to find that the girl has blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Marius instantly falls in love with her. He discovers a handkerchief with the letter “U” stitched into it, which he believes to be hers, and Marius renames her Ursula. He improves his wardrobe and begins to follow the couple around the gardens. Leblanc quickly figures out what is going on. The following day, he sits at a different bench to see if Marius will follow. When Marius follows, Leblanc gives him a cold stare. Marius cannot help himself and follows his love home one day, asking the caretaker of the building on what floor the girl and the old man live. About a week later, the couple moves out without leaving a forwarding address.
The narrator introduces the criminal underworld of Paris, with its four ringleaders, Montparnasse, Babet, Claquesous, and Gueulemer. Each of these shadowy figures has his own subversive talents, but they operate together, like one monstrous figure with four heads. As a group, they are collectively called “Patron-Minette.” They control all of the crime in their district of Paris and specialize in ambushes. Whenever anyone in their area wants to plan a robbery, he presents his plan to Patron-Minette, and the four men refine and execute it.
Marius’s change in political allegiance from the Bourbon monarchy to the Friends of the ABC signals his break from the identity that others have imposed on him. Although Marius does harbor a growing interest in politics, he quickly grows tired of the rhetoric of Enjolras and the other Friends of the ABC. He begins to realize that his interest in politics has less to do with his views about freedom than with his sense of debt to his father, Pontmercy. Nonetheless, Marius’s brief affiliation with the Friends of the ABC is beneficial since the experience teaches him to articulate his own personal beliefs. Marius’s rift with Gillenormand, his refusal to accept money from his family, and his sudden adulation of his father are all manifestations of his attempts to figure out who he is and what his beliefs are. In breaking away from Gillenormand, Marius takes his first steps toward independence, and the ideas he explores and then rejects with the Friends of the ABC further enhance his self-understanding.