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[S]he wrote on a sheet of blank paper
. . . “The cops are here.”
See Important Quotations Explained
[S]he wrote on a sheet of blank paper
. . . “The cops are here.”
Marius spends several months trying to track down Cosette,
whom he only knows as his beloved Ursula, the young woman from the Luxembourg
Gardens, but she has disappeared, and he has grown despondent. Marius
cannot stop thinking of her until a visit from his neighbor, Eponine
Jondrette, reminds him that other people’s troubles are worse than
his own. Eponine comes to Marius’s room in the Gorbeau House to
ask for money. She is so emaciated that she has the body of girl
but the broken voice of an old man. To show off the fact that she
is literate, Eponine writes “The cops are here” on a piece of paper.
Marius fails to realize that Eponine is attracted to him and offers
her his last five francs.
Marius decides to take a more active interest in the welfare
of the Jondrettes. He finds a crack in the wall that separates their
apartments and is horrified by the sight of the squalor and poverty
in which they live. Through the crack, Marius sees Eponine enter
with a philanthropist and a young girl. He immediately recognizes
the philanthropist as Leblanc and the girl as Ursula. Jondrette
pretends to be an unemployed actor and begs Leblanc for rent money. Though
the amount Jondrette is asking for is much higher than the rent,
Leblanc vows to return later that evening to give him the money.
Marius overhears Jondrette plotting to rob and kill Leblanc when
he returns that evening. Clearly, Jondrette and his wife recognize
both Leblanc and Ursula from some past incident, and they seem infuriated
to see their old acquaintances so well off. With the help of Patron-Minette,
the local mob, the Jondrettes form a plan to coerce Leblanc into
giving them a large sum of money. Although Marius does not fully
understand the connection between the Jondrettes and Leblanc, he
runs to the local police station. He tells an inspector about Jondrette’s
plan. The inspector, who turns out to be Javert, gives Marius two
pistols and tells him to return to the Gorbeau House. Javert tells
Marius that when the robbery has reached its peak, he should fire
one of the pistols to signal to the police to enter the building
and arrest the thieves.
Marius returns to his apartment. When Leblanc returns
to the Gorbeau House, Jondrette and a number of local hoods—among them
the members of Patron-Minette—ambush him. Leblanc calmly refuses
to sign over any of his money, saying that he has none. Jondrette
angrily reveals that his real name is Thénardier. Leblanc denies
that he has ever met Thénardier before. Marius, recognizing the
name Thénardier from his father’s note, is faced with the dilemma
of whether to help Leblanc or to protect the man who saved his father’s
The Thénardiers force Valjean to write a note summoning Cosette
to the apartment. Thénardier’s messengers return with the news that
Valjean has given them a false name and address. Thénardier is on
the verge of killing Valjean when Marius sends Eponine’s scribbled
message—“The cops are here“—flying through the window. When the
criminals read that the police have arrived, they try to flee, but
Javert makes his entrance and arrests them all. In the confusion,
Valjean slips out the window.
Thénardier’s attempt to rob Leblanc is the climax of the
“Marius” section of the novel, and it pulls together all the loose
threads and unexplained coincidences that have occurred in the previous
chapters. The episode shows Hugo’s remarkable ability to use the
smallest details from the past to make the most far-fetched parts
of his story plausible. The incident is based on an extraordinary
series of coincidences: Both Marius and the Thénardiers move into
the same building where Valjean once lived; Thénardier happens to
ask for money from Valjean, who is the father of Marius’s beloved;
the inspector for the precinct happens to be Javert; and Thénardier turns
out to be the man who Marius’s father thought saved his life at Waterloo.
Although the overlap of so many different story lines is improbable,
it is not inconceivable. For example, it makes sense that Marius
and Thénardier might be neighbors, since Thénardier would appreciate
the anonymity of the Gorbeau House and Marius would appreciate its
low rent. Similarly, it is not surprising that the dogged Javert
is still working in the last precinct where he knows Valjean lived.
Lesser details also have a plausible explanation. Eponine has likely
scribbled many warning notes in her criminal career, so writing
“The cops are here” to prove her literacy is a logical choice for her.
Thus, though the episode involves an unlikely combination of coincidences,
Hugo roots the robbery so thoroughly in his earlier chapters that
we can believe it.
The robbery scene forces Marius to choose between his
different allegiances. While the climax does not resolve all of
these conflicts, it does give us insight into Marius’s character,
especially his ability to find a middle ground. Marius does not,
for instance, fire the pistol at the appointed moment since he does
not want to betray his father’s dying wish that he assist Thénardier
in any way possible, but he does throw Eponine’s letter into the
Thénardiers’ apartment. This split-second decision indicates Marius’s
newfound ability to balance his various allegiances while staying
true to his own beliefs. While Marius does not betray Thénardier,
he does prevent him from harming Valjean, whom Marius wishes to
protect due to his love for Cosette. While Valjean and Javert are
unyielding in their principles, Marius is more flexible and comes
up with a way of thinking that is distinctly his own.
The Thénardiers’ intricate schemes against Valjean show
how thoroughly jealousy drives their criminal behavior. Unable to
feel love and compassion themselves, the Thénardiers retaliate by
plotting against those who are capable of such emotions. Mme. Thénardier’s
enraged reaction upon seeing that Cosette is better clothed than
her own daughters represents her materialistic interpretation of
the fact that Cosette is purer and more righteous than her children.
Rather than try to learn how to become upstanding citizens themselves,
the Thénardiers view respectability as an affront and try to drag
Valjean and Cosette down to their own debased level of existence.
The only members of the Thénardiers who do not suffer from these
jealous urges are Gavroche, who no longer lives in the Thénardier
household, and Eponine. Eponine’s visit to Marius at the beginning
of Book Eight foreshadows the selflessness she displays later in
Ace your assignments with our guide to Les Misérables!