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 XIII - XV)

XIII: Marius Enters the Darkness

Marius wanders all around the city, heedless of the danger, pondering his next step. He no longer wants to live and he believes that the voice he heard a divine voice in the garden telling him to join his friends at the Rue de la Chanvrerie. However, he does not know if joining the revolution is the right thing to do. He thinks of his father, who fought in so many wars to defend France, and wonders what he would think if he knew Marius was joining a French civil war. But Marius also knows that being part of an uprising is the only way to usher in a new era, one that his father would have been proud of. Marius finds himself at the Rue Mondétour, so close to the barricade where his friends are fighting, he sits down, continuing to ponder.

Suddenly, it dawns on Marius that every war is a civil war, because all man are brothers. War is always vicious and awful, but its justification is in the ideals that it defends. Marius realizes that he must fight, because this war is about the ideal of freedom and equality.

Meanwhile across the city of Paris, the poor are rising up and fighting. The insurrection is spreading.

XIV: The Greatness of Despair

The rebels sit uneasily in the shadow of the barricade, waiting. Gavroche's playful voice rises into the air, singing a little song, lightening their spirits. The little urchin is delighted because he now has his own musket. Suddenly, his voice becomes serious, and he calls out a warning to the defenders - the Guarde Nationale and the army are coming to confront the rebels at the barricade.

The rebels assume their positions at the barricade. Soon the stomping of boots is heard, and a voice calls out, "Who is there?" Enjolras replies, "The French Revolution!"

The army fires upon the barricade; it is shaken by a heavy volley of artillery. When the dust clears and the wounded are carried away, the rebels notice that the red flag from the top of the barricade (symbol of the rebel cause) has been knocked down. They are dismayed by this symbolism. Enjolras calls out for volunteers to put the flag back at the top of the barricade, a suicide mission. However, no one steps up. Suddenly, the voice of an old man calls out - it is Monsieur Mabeuf, and he volunteers to put the flag back. The group of rebels parts to allow Mabeuf through, stunned by his courage. In awed silence, the old man climbs the barricade; elderly but fierce, he seems like the incarnation of the French Revolution. He places the flag back on the barricade and cries out "Long live the Republic!" before he is cut down by a hail of bullets.

The rebels carry Mabeuf's body into the tavern, treating it like the body of a martyr. However, the army takes advantage of this momentary distraction to climb over the barricade and assail the rebels. Gavroche and Courfeyrac are menaced by enemy soldiers, and it seems impossible for them to get out of the situation alive. Suddenly, Gavroche's assailant is struck by a bullet and Courfeyrac's is hit in the chest. It is Marius, come to join his friends in their last stand.

Marius is heedless of his own safety, and one soldier takes aim at his back. However, someone places a hand over the mouth of the gun, diverting the bullet but taking on a mortal wound.

Marius, in a fury, holds a torch to a powder keg and threatens to blow up the whole barricade, rebels and army alike. Shocked and terrified, the soldiers beat a hasty retreat. The rebels celebrate Marius' courage.

The joy is quenched by a terrible sound. The rebels realize that Jean Prouvaire, member of the ABC society and poet, is missing, and they realize that he has been captured by the army. In the darkness, they hear him cry out "Long live France! Long live the future!" before a bullet silences him forever.

After a moment of grief, Marius decides to inspect the smaller barricade along the Rue Mondétour, fearing that it could be used in a surprise attack. A weak voice calls out to him - it is the youth who asked Courfeyrac where Marius was that morning. It is Éponine in disguise, and she is dying.

It was she who put her hand in front of the soldier's gun to save Marius' life. The bullet not only destroyed her hand, but struck her in the belly as well. Marius takes her head in his lap, and she tells confesses to him that it was she who called to him in the garden, luring him to the barricade. She also tells him that she is Gavroche's sister, and that she has a letter for Marius from Cosette. With her dying breath, she smiles and playfully tells Marius that she might be a little in love with him.

Marius lays her to rest and reads the letter she gave him when he returns to the tavern. It is a note from Cosette, informing him of impending departure from the Rue Plumet. Marius is delighted that Cosette still loves him, but he despairs that he will never see her again.

Chapter XV: In the Rue De L'Homme-Armé

Jean Valjean has moved to his second apartment in the Rue de l'Homme Armé, an unimportant and isolated neighborhood. Cosette, languid with despair, unhappily accepts this, though she refuses all food and seeks refuge only in her room.

Though he is troubled about Cosette's unusual behavior, Valjean is optimistic about their move to England; finally, he will be out of reach of the French authorities, and his past as an ex-convict will not matter anymore. However, by random chance he catches sight of Cosette's blotter, part of her writing kit, by her mirror. The blotter records the message backwards, but reflected in the mirror, the message reads in the normal way. Horrified, Valjean reads Cosette's declaration of undying love to Marius. At first Valjean denies what he is seeing, then he recognizes the truth.

Valjean has suffered many torments in his life, but this is the worst: the loss of one's beloved. It is difficult enough when one's love is divided among a number of people, but in all his life Valjean has only had Cosette to love - all of his affection is concentrated in her. The prospect of a stranger occupying her affections and snatching her away nearly drives Valjean insane with despair and jealousy. Stunned, he sits on his doorstep to ponder this irreconcilable loss.

It is here that Gavroche finds him. Valjean likes the urchin instantly, and Gavroche warms to him when Valjean gives him a bit of money and tells him he can smash as many streetlights as he wants. Gavroche says he has a letter for Cosette, and Valjean says he'll pass it on to her. Eager to get back to the barricade, the urchin gives the letter to Valjean.

Valjean reads Marius' letter to Cosette, which says, "I am dying. When you read this, my soul will be near you." Valjean is caught in a vortex of conflicting emotions. The first is an ugly feeling of delight, an exultation that this stranger will die instead of stealing away Cosette. However, Valjean has come too far in his life's journey to succumb to such wicked emotions. An hour later, he makes his way out of the apartment, dressed in his Guarde Nationale uniform.


Monsieur Mabeuf's last stand is a moving one. Each participates in the revolution in his own way, even if it is by putting the flag back where it belongs. He writes a letter to Cosette and asks Gavroche to deliver it. This way, he is accomplishing two important tasks at the same time: communicating his love to Cosette, and protecting the son of Thénardier (who saved Marius' father) from death at the barricades. Marius also requests that his body be delivered to his grandfather.

Gavroche, unwilling to miss out on the action at the barricades, reluctantly accepts this mission. He plans to deliver the letter quickly and then return. However, his desire to hurry back coincides with Valjean's desire to read the letter addressed to Cosette. There are frequent examples of such alignment (or contradiction) of the characters' motivations in Les Misérables.

This section also describes the death of Éponine. She is a complex character, and her motivations are not always selfless or geared to protect her beloved from harm. We discover that it was she who visited Marius in the garden during his deep despair, telling him that his friends were expecting him at the Rue de la Chanvrerie; she knew that Marius would be so devastated by the loss of Cosette that he would want to die, and so Éponine would finally have a chance to separate him from her rival Cosette forever. However, she had a change of heart on the barricades, and decided instead to give her life to protect him.

The true test of morality in Les Misérables is what one does with despair and loss, and how one deals with selfishness. Éponine gives into her selfish desire to possess Marius but eventually relinquishes it. Thénardier, on the other hand, gives full reign to his selfishness, lying and cheating as much as he wants. Valjean faces the great test of his moral compass when he realizes that Cosette is in love and might leave him. The reader is not quite sure what his intent is as he dons his uniform and heads out the door. Is he going to kill Marius, or to save him?

An intriguing feature of the chapters in Part Four of the book is their emphasis on voices in the darkness. Examples include Éponine's message to Marius telling him that his friends are waiting for him; the question posed by the army sergeant to the barricade; the singing of Gavroche; and the last cry of Jean Prouvaire. This emphasis on voices in the darkness illustrates the sensory experience of life on the barricades. It also evokes incidents from the Bible, in which the voice of God is the way that the divine communicates with human beings.