Les Miserables

Les Miserables Summary and Analysis of Part Four: The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis (Chapters V - VIII)

Chapter V: Of Which the End Does Not Resemble the Beginning

One evening while Cosette is walking in the garden by her house, she thinks she hears footsteps and sees a man's shadow; however, the shadow disappears. When Valjean returns, he points out the shadow of a chimney that might be mistaken for a man. Neither of them wonder how a chimney could make the sound of footsteps or suddenly disappear.

A few days later, Cosette notices a stone next to the bench where she often sits in her garden. She knows this stone was not there even a few minutes ago, and runs back into the house in a panic.

Still, Cosette has a strong element of boldness in her personality. The next day, she is overcome by curiosity and peers under the rock. She discovers a notebook filled with beautiful meditations on love, and proclamations of devotion to a beloved whom Cosette recognizes as herself. Though she had forgotten Marius, Cosette falls in love with him all over again. She notices the pompous solider Théoldule (who happens to be Marius' cousin) walking by her garden, and she is overcome by disgust for this man).

During her evening stroll in the garden, she sees Marius himself. The two proclaim their love for each other, and kiss passionately. The spend the entire night talking about their experiences, thoughts, and lives, to the point where their souls seem to meld. At last, they finally ask each other's names.

Chapter VI: The Boy Gavroche

The reader discovers that after the birth of Gavroche (the unwanted boy crying in a back room of the inn), the Thénardiers had two more children, both boys; this made a total of five children in all, but Madame Thénardier loved only her daughters Éponine and Azelma.

At the same time, a woman named La Magnon (whom the reader will remember as the woman whom Monsieur Gillenormand paid eighty francs a month for the maintenance of his bastard children) suffers the death of her two sons, which pains her mainly because it means she will no longer receive payments from Monsieur Gillenormand. The Thénardiers wish to be rid of two sons and La Magnon wishes to have two sons, so the Thénardiers give their two younger children to her. She takes care of them tenderly, mainly because of the money that they represent.

La Magnon is involved in a number of criminal elements, and she is arrested in the sweep after the Thénardier affair. The two boys come home form playing in the backyard to find their home locked and empty. A kind-hearted man gives them the address to Gillenormand's accountant, but the elder child drops it and it blows away in the wind. The two pampered children wander the streets of Paris alone.

Gavroche is slyly watching a barber, waiting to steal a cake of soap from his shop, when he sees the two pitiful children. He takes them under his wing not knowing that they are literally his blood brothers, and uses a coin he found to buy them all a bit of bread. On the way, he sees a young girl dressed in rags and gives her his shawl.

Night is falling. Gavroche brings the boys to his unique home - a massive statue of an elephant next to the Bastille. The elephant is hollow inside, and Gavroche reveals a ladder that allows them to get inside. It is peculiar, but it is a cozy shelter against the cold and rain. The monument was intended to be a grand spectacle for the new France, but instead it has become a shelter for a child.

Gavroche chats with the two boys in his usual manner of gruff bravado and tender care. Seeing the terror of the two lost children, he regales them with stories of the street urchin's life: seeing operas, swimming in the summer, teasing washerwomen, and so on. He settles the two boys down in his bed, which is constructed under a shelter of mosquito net and chicken wire. The reason for this strange contraption is quickly revealed: when the candle is blown out, the rats that also take shelter in the elephant rush out in droves, excited by the scent of human flesh. They rattle the wire. One of the boys asks Gavroche why he doesn't get a cat to deal with the rats. Gavroche replies that he tries this, but the rats ate it.

Still, the two boys and Gavroche fall into an exhausted sleep. Gavroche is awakened by a strange cry, and shimmies out of the elephant to find his criminal friend Montparnasse, who enlists his help in a prison break.

Back in the prison, Brujon and Gueulemer have escaped with the help of a nail and a rope, and they meet up with Montparnasse and Babet. Thénardier offers his guard drugged wine, and escapes when the man passes out. He slips out of the prison and dashes across the roofs of the prison - only to find out the rope is too short. Thénardier is sitting on a roof three stories above ground just as dawn is about to break.

He hears his friends from the Patron-Minette gang discussing him below, and throws his useless rope to get their attention. Montparnasse has enlisted Gavroche to bring Thénardier a longer rope. The urchin fearlessly scales rickety pipes and gutters and hands the longer rope to Thénardier, who shimmies down to freedom.

The criminals begin to discuss their next mark, which happens to be a certain house on the Rue Plumet. Babet remarks to Thénardier that it may have been his son who brought him the rope, but Thénardier is totally indifferent to his child.

Chapter VIII: Enchantment and Despair

Cosette and Marius are madly in love, and Marius visits her every evening in her garden. The love they share is totally consuming, but it is not a sexual love; the two do not even kiss, they merely hold hands and talk. They talk about their lives, their thoughts when they first saw each other, even their thoughts on trifling matters such as coughing and nature. Valjean remains completely unaware of their visits.

Trouble looms on the horizon. Marius runs into Éponine; she tries to tell him something important, but he merely mumbles to her before dashing away. He sees her again in the evening before he does to meet Cosette, and turns down an alley to avoid her. She follows him, taking shelter in shadows outside the gate.

The reason for Éponine's presence soon becomes clear. Six men appear in the shadows. It is Thénardier's gang; having heard that this house on the Rue Plumet is home to two women, they assume it will be easy to rob. Éponine greets her father with a great show of emotion, proclaiming how happy she is to see him, and suggesting that they go elsewhere to celebrate their reunion. When he ignores this and harshly tells her to move, she abandons this emotional act. There is nothing of value in this house and they should leave it alone, she says; if they don't go, she will scream and bring the entire neighborhood running. The gang threatens her, but Éponine merely laughs - she is used to starving in the summer and freezing in the winter, what can they do to scare her? The gang (including her father and her erstwhile romantic interest Montparnasse) consider killing or harming her, but eventually they leave.

Meanwhile in the garden, totally unaware of the drama occurring outside, Cosette gives Marius terrible news: Valjean is thinking of taking her to England. This is like a death sentence to Marius, because he is too poor to follow his beloved to England. Marius is driven by desperation to attempt the unthinkable: he goes to his estranged grandfather Gillenormand to ask for help.

Gillenormand has grown more mellow in the years since his falling-out with Marius. His bitterness and anger have been replaced by sorrow, and he often thinks of Marius with affection.

Marius' sudden appearance stuns the elderly man, who is driven by his pride to treat Marius with severity. Marius responds to this rude treatment with irritation. Still, the two try to mend ties.

Marius tells Gillenormand about his love for Cosette, and Gillenormand listens intently before suggesting that this is only a youthful love affair, and Marius should make Cosette his mistress. Marius is deeply insulted by ugly remark, and storms out. Gillenormand, who was trying to protect his grandson from heartbreak and mistakes, bursts into tears.


(Note: Chapter VII describes the argot of Paris and is not included in many versions of Les Misérables)

What is the vision of romance in Les Misérables? It is a pure one, based in ideals, in which one's heart can be captured with a kiss and where ultimate ecstasy is found not in sexual union but in conversation. This indicates the changing ideals surrounding romance that took place in the early decades of the 19th century, when love became more idealized. Still, stalking a young woman in her home seems a strange way to express one's love

In Chapter VI, the reader is given a portrait of a character totally unique in world literature: Gavroche, the Paris street urchin. He is a delightfully contradictory character: he steals from barbers but gives shawls to homeless girls; he maintains a tough demeanor but is quick to help two pampered children lost on the streets. Playful, resourceful, courageous, and kindhearted, it is hard not to like Gavroche.

There is enormous irony in the fact that the two boys Gavroche helps are actually his blood brothers. This suggests a moral lesson: we must treat even strangers like our brothers, because perhaps they truly are. This also emphasizes Hugo's political beliefs about the brotherhood of man. More tragically, it also exhibits the disintegration of the family under poverty

The two boys are never named, which lends them an air of anonymity which also makes them universal and relatable: they become symbolic of all the lost children of 19th century Paris.

Chapter VIII makes wonderful use of animal metaphors to describe Éponine's loyalty and ferocity. She describes herself as a watchdog, playing on the criminals' stated concerns about a guard dog while also emphasizing her loyalty to Marius and her intent to defend him (and even his beloved, Éponine's rival Cosette) against all enemies. She also describes herself as a wolf's daughter, denigrating her father's criminal activities while highlighting her own ferocity and wildness.

This scene demonstrates the true depth of Éponine's character: even though the man she loves does not love her back, she will still risk her life and defy her father to protect the woman that he has chosen to love.