How do Valjean, Cosette, and Thenardier each deal with poverty in Les Misérables?

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sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Valjean and Cosette both try to deal honestly with poverty.  They both work hard in their early life, earning very little and yet still sharing what they have with their loved ones.  However, when circumstances become desperate, they also both turn to illegal activities.  Valjean steals, first bread from a baker and then candlesticks from the Bishop.  In both cases, although he is depriving another person of property, Valjean does not seek to harm anyone.  Cosette does not steal, but instead sells herself, also seeking not to harm anyone else.

The Thenardiers lie, cheat, steal, and trick - that is how they deal with poverty.  They swindle the people who come to their inn, steal directly from their pockets, trick Cosette into sending more money than is necessary.  Later, in Paris, they rob houses and, in the novel's more grisly moments, dead bodies.  They are the worst picture of poverty, one devoid of morality and human sympathy.