Jean Valjean: Summary and Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5453

War Between Four Walls - Summary
Enjolras tells the men they should leave the barricade if they do not wish to continue fighting, but they are surrounded by soldiers who will shoot anyone who tries to leave. Enjolras takes Combeferre into the basement room, and they return with four National Guard uniforms which can be worn to get out safely. Five men step forward. They debate which of them will take the uniforms but reach no conclusion. Unexpectedly, a fifth uniform is thrown on the pile by Jean Valjean who has easily passed through the streets wearing it. Marius recognizes him at once as M. Fauchelevent. He is invited to stay, but Enjolras warns him that they will all die.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Les Misérables Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The five men leave and the others build the barricade higher. They are fired upon and when the shells stop, Gavroche jumps back into the barricade.

Gavroche wants to replenish their supply of bullets, so he takes a basket from the wine shop and collects cartridge boxes from the 20 dead soldiers whose bodies are just outside the barricade. The fog and his small size protect him as he moves further into the street. Eventually, he is spotted and a bullet hits the body next to him. Another hits the pavement. The National Guard continue firing at him, always missing, and he mocks them, playing a hide-and-seek game with them. Those in the barricade watch breathlessly while he sings and dodges bullets. Eventually, he is struck.

Marius and Combeferre rush out to help him, but Gavroche is dead. Combeferre carries the basket while Marius brings the body back to the barricade. He is thinking that he is doing for Gavroche what Gavroche’s father did for his father. The difference is that his father was alive when he was rescued by Thénardier. When Marius leans down to pick up the body, his head is grazed by a bullet. Courfeyrac takes off his scarf and ties it around the wound.

The barricade has been fortified again, and the wine shop made into the inner fortress. It is noon. Combeferre tells Marius to take watch outside. He says he will give the final orders from the wine shop. Turning to Javert, he tells him that he will not forget him. Placing a pistol on the table, he instructs the men that the last one out of the room should take Javert to the small barricade and execute him there so his body will not be found with theirs. Jean requests that he be rewarded by being the one to shoot Javert. Enjolras tells him to take the spy, and Jean picks up the pistol and cocks it.

Jean unties Javert’s hands but leaves his feet bound. Leading him by a rope, he takes the prisoner to a small street at the end of the barricade near a pile of corpses of their fallen comrades. When they are alone, Jean tells Javert who he is, and Javert responds by telling him to take his revenge. Jean cuts the ropes and tells him he is free to go. Although he does not expect to survive the battle, he gives Javert his address and the name he has been using. When Javert leaves, Jean fires the pistol in the air and returns to the barricade.

The barricade is assaulted again and again by the National Guards. Almost all of the rebels are killed or wounded, but after ten assaults, the barricade is still not taken. Bossuet, Feuilly, Courfeyrac, Joly, and Combeferre are all killed. Marius continues to fight in spite of multiple wounds. Only Enjolras is uninjured.

Enjolras and Marius are at opposite ends of the barricade. The leaders who were in the center are now all dead, and the barricade falls to the invaders. Marius is shot in the shoulder. His last thoughts are of Cosette and of his fear that he will be taken prisoner.

When Jean Valjean sees Marius fall, he picks him up and carries him, unnoticed, out of the barricade. He stops behind a house to rest and decide what to do. Noticing an iron grate in the pavement, Jean uses his enormous strength to open it and discovers an underground passage. As he lowers himself and the unconscious Marius into the darkness, he hears the sounds of the wine shop being overcome.

Mire, But Soul - Summary
Jean has descended into the dark and damp maze of the Paris sewer system. Marius hangs limply across his shoulders. After an hour of walking, Jean suddenly sees his shadow. He turns and sees a police star and eight or ten black forms following him.

On June 6, the government ordered the sewers to be searched. A lantern carried by one of the patrols on the left bank of the river casts a shadow on Jean. He stops and waits in the shadows close to the wall. The patrol, seeing nothing, passes by. As they leave, the sergeant fires in Jean’s direction, striking the wall above his head.

Jean continues walking, but the journey becomes more and more difficult. The height of the arches supporting the sewer is only about five feet six inches forcing him to bend with each step so that Marius does not hit them. The slimy floor and damp walls also slow his progress. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon he reaches the Grand Sewer which is eight feet wide and seven feet high. He stops and gently lays Marius down. Tearing his shirt, he bandages Marius’ wounds although he looks at him with hatred in his eyes. In Marius’ pockets he finds a crust of bread, which he eats, and a pocket-book. Opening it, he reads Marius’ instructions to take his corpse to his grandfather. He replaces the pocket-book. Lifting Marius onto his shoulders, he descends again into the sewers.

Jean finds himself in a basin of water caused by the rain of the previous day. The soil beneath the streets near the Seine River is quicksand; heavy rain had caused the sinking of the pavement. Jean continues through water and slime up to his armpits. Though only his head is out of the water, he is still carrying Marius. As he reaches a depth which forces him to tilt his head back to breathe, he feels something solid beneath his feet and he begins reascending. He trips coming out of the water and falls on his knees. Remaining on his knees, he prays. When he finally rises, his soul is “filled with a strange light.”

Jean presses on desperately. He finally reaches the outlet and sees daylight, but he cannot get out. The opening is covered by a grate fastened by a double lock. Jean frantically tries to break through the bars, but they do not bend. Exhausted and dejected, he sinks to the ground. He thinks about Cosette.

In the midst of his despair, he hears a voice say, “Go halves.” He recognizes Thénardier, but Thénardier does not recognize him. Thénardier assumes Jean is a common criminal who has killed for money. He proposes a trade: he will unlock the grate if Jean will give him half of what is in his pockets. He also offers a rope and tells Jean that he will find a stone outside so he can tie up the body and throw it into the river.

Jean usually carries a lot of money, but he has forgotten his pocket-book and has only a small amount of money. Thénardier comments that he has not killed for much and takes the entire sum. He unlocks the grate, and Jean carries Marius out. Thénardier closes the grate, relocks it, and disappears into the darkness.

Jean lays Marius on the beach and bathes his face with water. He appears dead but is breathing slightly. Jean dips his hand into the river again. He senses that someone is watching. He turns and finds Javert behind him. Javert does not recognize him either, but Jean reveals his identity and tells him that he is his prisoner. He asks only that Javert permit him to carry Marius home. Javert also thinks Marius is dead, but Jean says he is not. Jean takes out Marius’ pocket-book and finds the address Marius has written in it. Javert keeps the pocket-book and the three of them get into a carriage.

When the carriage arrives at M. Gillenormand’s house, everyone is asleep. They tell the porter they have brought Marius home and carry him upstairs. A doctor is called. Jean and Javert return to the carriage and Jean makes one more request. He wants to return to his home on the Rue de l’Homme Armé briefly. Then, he promises, Javert can do what he wants with him.

The carriage stops at the end of his deserted street because it is too narrow for carriages. At the door, Javert tells Jean to go in. When he gets to the top of the stairs, he looks out the window and is amazed to find that Javert is gone.

A doctor examines Marius to determine the extent of his wounds. A bullet deflected by his pocket-book has torn up his ribs, his shoulder is dislocated, and he has superficial head and face wounds; but he has no internal injuries, and his face is not disfigured. When his grandfather sees him, he bends over him, overwhelmed by the sight of his wounds, and mournfully cries out. He thinks his grandson is dead, but Marius opens his eyes and looks at him. The grandfather expresses his joy, calls Marius his son, and faints from the excitement.

Javert Off The Track -Summary
When Javert leaves Jean’s house, he walks to the Seine River, reflecting on what has transpired. He is in a state of mental torment because all of his values and beliefs have crumbled. He is astounded that Jean spared his life and frightened because he in return has spared Jean. He remembers Jean’s acts of kindness and reluctantly realizes that he has come to admire the convict. He sees only two ways out of his moral dilemma. One is to recapture Jean and return him to the galleys. He leans over the railing and watches the swirling waters beneath him and chooses the other alternative. He plunges into the Seine.

The Grandson And The Grandfather -Summary
In his delirium, Marius calls out for Cosette. He is visited daily by a well dressed gentleman with white hair. Finally, after four months, the doctor declares that he is out of danger, but he continues to recuperate for another two months. As his health improves, his problems with his grandfather resurface. He mentally prepares himself for a battle with the old man because he has vowed to himself that he will either have Cosette or die. If his grandfather denies him, he plans to tear off his bandages, reopen his wounds, and refuse to eat.

Marius tells his grandfather that he wishes to marry. Gillenor¬mand tells him that he has foreseen this event and that Marius should marry. In an emotional exchange, Marius calls him “father,” and the old man realizes that Marius does love him. He tells Marius that Cosette will be brought to him the next day.
Cosette and M. Fauchelevent, who carries a package wrapped in paper under his arm, visit Marius. The grandfather explains to Mademoiselle Gillenormand that Fauchelevent is a scholar and is carrying books. On behalf of his grandson, he asks Fauchelevent for his daughter’s hand. When permission is granted, he tells the couple they have permission to “adore” one another.

The grandfather praises Cosette and tells the couple how right they are for each other. He says it is a pity that most of his money is in an annuity which they will not get until 20 years after his death. Fauchelevent interrupts and tells them that Euphrasie Fauchelevent has almost 600,000 francs. He explains that Euphrasie is Cosette’s real name. He unwraps the package he is carrying and counts out 584,000 thousand francs.

Long ago, when Jean left M——sur M——, he withdrew his money from Laffitte’s Bank and buried 630,000 francs and the bishop’s silver candlesticks in a chest in the forest of Montfermeil in a place called Blaru glade. Whenever he needed money, he would visit the glade. He had recently retrieved the chest. He took 500 francs for himself and gave 584,000 for Cosette. The balance had been spent on living expenses for the past ten years from 1823 to 1833. It had cost them only 5000 francs for the five years they lived at the convent. Jean puts the silver candlesticks on his mantel.

Jean learns that he is free of Javert, whose death by drowning has been reported in the newspaper.

Happiness prevails as they prepare for the wedding. Jean’s experience as mayor has given him the knowledge to handle the matter of Cosette’s background. Since admitting the truth might jeopardize the marriage, he invents a family for her and has a notary draw up papers, declaring that she is Mademoiselle Euphrasie Fauchelevent, the orphan daughter of his brother. Jean also arranges it so that he will remain her guardian and M. Gillenormand will be her overseeing guardian. He explains her fortune by saying that it was left to her by a relative who wishes to remain anonymous. It is to be given to her when she marries or becomes of legal age.

Had Cosette been told this story of her heritage at any other time, she might have been devastated to learn that the man she thinks of as her father is merely a relative. However, this unexpected news is overshadowed by her bliss, and she continues to call Jean “father.”

The young couple will live with the grandfather who vacates his own room because it is the best in the house and fills it with fine furniture for them. His library becomes the attorney’s office.

Cosette and Fauchelevent visit Marius every day. It is unusual for the bride-to-be to visit the groom, but the habit was begun when Marius was still recuperating from his injuries. Marius and Fauchelevent do not speak to one another, but it is necessary for him to accompany her as her chaperone.

Marius regards him as cold although he accepts his presence as a part of loving Cosette. His memory of the past is vague. He questions whether it is possible that he really saw Fauchelevent at the barricade, but his relationship with the man prevents him from discussing it. Once, he attempted discussion by asking Fauchelevent if he knew the location of the Rue de la Chanvrerie. When Fauchelevent replies that he never heard of it, Marius is convinced that the person he recalled merely looked like Fauchelevent.

While preparations are being made for the wedding, Marius does some investigating. He owes debts to Thénardier because of his father and to the unknown person who saved him. Thénardier’s wife had died in prison, but he and his daughter Azelma disappeared without a trace. Investigators manage to locate the carriage that delivered Marius to his grandfather. The driver reveals that he picked up Marius, the man who was carrying him, and an officer near the Grand Sewer at nine o’clock on the evening of June 6. After leaving Marius at home, the driver then took the other two to a street near the Archives where they departed. He knew nothing else.

Marius remembers nothing from the time he fell in the barricade until he regained consciousness at his grandfather’s. He still has the clothing he was wearing that night. He examines it and finds that the coat is torn and a piece of it is missing.

One evening Marius tells Cosette and Fauchelevent about the frustration of his search. Angered by Fauchelevent’s indifference, he explains how much he owes the stranger who bravely carried him four miles through the slimy sewers. To Marius he was like the archangel and he claims he would gladly give Cosette’s entire fortune to find him.

The White Night - Summary
It is a blessed night because it is the wedding night for Marius and Cosette. The night before, in the presence of his grandfather, Jean had given Marius the 584,000 thousand francs. A few days before, Jean had injured the thumb on his right hand. The injury is not serious so he bandages it and wears a sling so he is unable to sign any documents at the marriage ceremony. The necessary papers are signed by M. Gillenormand as Cosette’s overseeing guardian.

Cosette is strikingly beautiful on the day of her wedding. She and her handsome bridegroom become Monsieur the Baron and Madame the Baroness and are admired by all. After exchanging vows and rings and signing both municipal and church documents, they are taken by carriage to their home, with Jean and the grandfather riding in the back, to their wedding banquet. She is tender toward Jean, speaking to him in the voice she used as a girl, and he tells her he is pleased. A chair is reserved on one side of the bride for the grandfather and on the other side for Jean, but when they are seated, Jean is absent. Basque, the servant, informs them that Jean left because his hand was causing him great pain. He asked to be excused and left a message that he would visit the following day.

After an uncomfortable moment, the grandfather declares that Jean was right to leave if he was suffering and invites Marius to take his place by Cosette’s side. Though Cosette is at first sad that Jean is not there, it pleases her to be next to Marius and within minutes gaiety is restored.

Jean returns to an empty home. Even Toussaint is gone. He wanders through vacant rooms, looks at the naked beds and opens closets. Cosette’s room is empty, stripped of her personal things. He goes into his own room and takes off the sling. His hand is not really injured. On his bed is “the inseparable,” the small trunk which made Cosette jealous. He had put it there on June 4 when he arrived in the Rue de l’Homme Armé.

He takes out the key, opens it, and removes the black clothing Cosette wore when she left Montfermeil. He remembers the winter ten years past when he had taken her, ragged and thin, and dressed her in these mourning clothes. He recalls their journey through the forest and pictures her as a child when she had no one to care for her but him. Fingering the clothing, his heart breaking, he sobs.

Marius and Cosette are wealthy and happy, but Jean does not know what he should do. Once again, his past causes him anguish as he lies in bed all night contemplating what his role should be in their lives. He wonders if he should be the “ominous mute of destiny” in the lives of the happy couple. Motionless and silent for twelve hours, he appears to be dead until he suddenly kisses Cosette’s clothes.

The Last Drop In The Chalice - Summary
The newlyweds sleep late the morning after the wedding. Basque, hearing a tap, opens the door for M. Fauchelevent, who asks if his master is awake. Basque says he will tell Monsieur the Baron that M. Fauchelevent is calling, but Jean tells him to say only that someone wishes to speak with him in private.

When Marius sees who it is, he says, “It is you, father!” Jean is pleased that the barrier between them is dissolving and that Marius thinks of him as a father. Marius says he is happy to see that the hand is better and tells Jean that he must come and live with them.

Jean confesses that he is a convict and that there was never anything wrong with his hand. He explains that he invented the injury so that he would not have to commit forgery by signing anything at the wedding. Marius is shocked. He is further astounded when Jean reveals that his name is not Fauchelevent but Jean Valjean and that he is not even related to Cosette. Marius does not want to believe him but, studying Jean’s calm demeanor, accepts his word.

Jean further explains how Cosette came into his life and then says that as of this day, he is leaving her life. She is now Madame Pontmercy and no longer needs him. He is driven by honor and conscience to confess his past to Marius. He is, he says, an honest man, “a galley slave who obeys his conscience” (305). He once stole a loaf of bread to survive, but he can no longer go on stealing a name in order to live.

Marius takes his hand and suggests that he can get his grandfather to procure a pardon, but Jean reminds him that the authorities think he is dead. He asks that Marius not tell Cosette his secret, then covers his face with his hands and weeps. He asks Marius to keep his secret, and they decide that it would be best if Jean did not see Cosette that day. As he is leaving, Jean asks permission to visit Cosette from time to time, and Marius tells him to come every evening.

Marius is overwhelmed by Jean’s disgraceful past. His confession explains the negative feelings Marius instinctively felt in the past. Reflecting on Jean’s presence in the barricade, he recalls that it was Jean who dragged Javert out of the barricade to be executed and assumes that Jean’s reason for being there was to rid himself of his enemy. Marius wonders how it is that fate has tied this man to Cosette.

The Twilight Wane - Summary
The following evening, Jean visits Cosette. He enters through the coach door and tells Basque that he wishes to remain in the basement room. Having neither eaten nor slept for several days, he is exhausted and sinks into one of two chairs next to the fireplace. Cosette enters and he marvels at her beauty. She asks why he wishes to visit with her in the basement, and he tells her it is just his whim. He refers to her as “madame” and tells her not to call him father any more, but, rather, to address him as Monsieur Jean.

She says she will ask her husband’s permission to call him Monsieur Jean although she does not understand why it must be so. She tells him that he should not cause her grief and asks if he likes her being so happy. Almost to himself, he replies that her happiness has been the whole reason for his life. He says, “Cosette, you are happy; my time is full.” She is pleased that he has called her by her name and embraces him. He passionately returns the embrace as if she is his once again but then pushes her away. He tells her to tell her husband he will not use her name again and returns to being formal. She is confused by his behavior.

Jean visits the next day at the same time. Cosette lets him talk and doesn’t ask any questions. She does not call him father or Monsieur Jean. He visits every day at the same hour, and Marius arranges his schedule so he is not home then.

Several weeks pass and Cosette becomes accustomed to married life. Her sole pleasure is being with Marius. She becomes detached from Jean but she still loves him very much. Jean continues to live in the same place because he doesn’t want to be farther away from her. Gradually his visits get longer. One day Cosette calls him father and his face lights up. Turning away so she cannot see him wipe away a tear, he reminds her to call him Jean.

In the spring and summer of 1833, the residents of the Rue de l’Homme Armé observe an old man dressed in black, walking to the corner of the Rue des Filles du Calvaire. His happiness is apparent as he approaches; but when he arrives at the corner, he is gloomy and has tears in his eyes. He stays for a few minutes and returns. Though he comes out of his house at the same time each day, over time he shortens the distance he travels, no longer walking all the way to the corner. His eyes are dull and he no longer has tears.

Supreme Shadow, Supreme Dawn - Summary
New Characters:
The Portress: servant in Jean’s building
The Physician: attends Jean

Marius asks Jean no questions but gradually banishes him from his home and tries to make Cosette forget him. He meets an old man who was a clerk at Laffitte’s and learns some information which he does not understand but which compels him to avoid spending any of the 584,000 francs. In the meantime, he quietly searches for the person he thinks is the rightful owner.

One day Jean goes out but returns after walking only a few steps. The next day he stays inside, and the following day he stays in bed. After a week he is still in bed. When the portress sees a doctor at the end of the street, she sends him up to see Jean. The physician reports that Jean is very sick, that he seems to have lost a dear friend, and that he might die.

One day Jean awakens to find himself weaker. With a supreme effort, he gets up and dresses. He takes out Cosette’s clothes and spreads them on the bed. He lights the bishop’s candlesticks. Seeing his reflection in the mirror, he notes that he now looks 80 years old. Just a year ago, before Cosette’s wedding, he looked only 50.

By nightfall, the effort of moving a chair and table near the fireplace causes him to faint. When he regains consciousness, he writes a letter to Cosette explaining the story of the jet factory so she will know the money honestly belongs to her. Exhausted by the effort, he tells himself that he does not mind dying, but he does mind dying without seeing Cosette once more and laments that he will never see her again. There is a knock at the door.

That same evening Basque hands Marius a letter signed by Baron Thénard who claims to know secrets about someone close to Marius. Marius tells Basque to show him in. The Baron tells Marius about Jean Valjean, and Marius replies that he already knows everything about him.

The Baron then offers information about Cosette’s fortune for 20,000 francs. When Marius says that he knows this too, the Baron reduces his price to 10,000 francs. Marius refuses but the Baron persists, saying that he will talk for 20 francs. Marius identifies the Baron as Thénardier and says he knows that Jean is an assassin because he killed Javert and a thief who stole a fortune from M. Madeleine.

Thénardier reveals that he is wrong, that Jean is M. Madeleine, and that Javert committed suicide. When Marius tells him to prove it, Thénardier produces two old newspapers which verify his story. Marius cries out in joy. Jean is a hero and a saint.

Thénardier insists that Jean is still a robber and a murderer and tells Marius about his encounter with Jean in the Grand Sewer when Jean was carrying the corpse of a man he robbed and killed. Thénardier produces a piece of cloth cut from the coat of the corpse. At this news, Marius pales. He grabs the piece of fabric and matches it to the coat he was wearing the night he was delivered to his grandfather.

It fits exactly. He angrily tells Thénardier that he knows he is Jondrette. The only thing protecting him is the fact that he saved Marius’ father at Waterloo. Marius tells him he will see that he leaves for America the next day with his daughter. Then he will give him another 20,000 francs.

Two days later Thénardier, using a new name, and his daughter do leave for America with 20,000 francs. Morally irredeemable, Thénardier uses the money to become a slave trader.

The moment Thénardier leaves, Marius, greatly excited, orders a coach and calls Cosette. The two race off to Jean’s house. On the way, he explains that it was Jean who saved him and spared Javert in the barricade. Since Cosette never received the letter he sent her from the barricade, he assumes, correctly, that Gavroche must have given it to Jean.

When they arrive, Cosette kisses Jean, and he says he thought he would never see her again. He asks Marius to forgive him, but Marius protests. He owes his life to Jean whom he calls his angel. He asks Jean why he did not tell the whole truth. Jean replies that Marius was right to want him to go away, so he didn’t want to embarrass him. Marius protests that Jean must now come to live with them, but Jean says that he will die soon, that God also thinks he should go away.

The physician comes in. Feeling Jean’s pulse, he comments that Jean needed to see Cosette and whispers to Marius that it is too late. Struggling to rise, Jean takes the crucifix from the wall and puts it on the table. He kisses Cosette’s sleeve and explains to Marius that Cosette’s money really belongs to her and tells briefly how it was earned. The physician asks Jean if he wants a priest, and he says that he already has one. “It is probable that the Bishop was indeed a witness of this death-agony.”

Weakening, he speaks to them in a whisper, saying that he wants Cosette to have fine things. He gives her the silver candlesticks and asks to be buried under a stone with no name on it. He hopes that Cosette will visit the spot occasionally and that Marius will too. Although he has not always loved Marius, he loves him now because he makes Cosette so happy. He tells Cosette about her mother, Fantine, and how unhappy her life was. He advises them always to love one another because that is all there is in this world. He sees a light and invites them to move closer. Tearfully, they each hold one hand, covering it with kisses, and he dies.

There is a stone in the cemetery near the Potters’ field. Like all other stones, it is ravaged by time and the elements. No path leads to it, and no one walks near it because of the high grass. Large enough to cover a man, the stone bears no name.

Jean Valjean - Analysis
With its escape scenes through the Paris sewers, this is the most famous portion of the novel. Jean’s monumental efforts to save Marius catapult him into true heroism. Though he despises this man who threatens to take his beloved Cosette away from him, he is willing to sacrifice himself for her happiness. His journey through the filthy sewer, fraught with danger, is a symbol for the trials he has had to surmount throughout his entire life. When Marius is returned to his family, he is referred to as the prodigal son and, as in the Bible, he is forgiven and welcomed back.

The author uses this section of the novel to tie all of the plots and subplots together and offer some resolutions. Marius and Cosette, basking in the glow of their love for one another, become the hope for the future. The rebels have fallen, indicating not that their cause is unworthy, but that social and political change require more than a single battle. Javert, the symbol of law and order, comes to admire Jean. Caught between his sense of duty and his sense of justice, he takes his own life. Thénardier’s entry into the slave trade proves that he is inherently evil and that the mere acquisition of money does not improve the values of the corrupt.

Having been relentlessly pursued all of his life, Jean finally reaches a state of peace and love. He has won the battle and achieved his goal of moving closer to God. In spite of the fact that circumstances have forced him to lie about his identity, he is truly an honest man. His story is epic-like in that he has been on a lifelong quest to reach a state of grace.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

St. Denis: Summary and Analysis

Explore Study Guides