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Free Study Guide-Les Miserables by Victor Hugo-Free Book Notes Summary
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JEAN VALJEAN

BOOK FIRST: War Between Four Walls

Summary

It is the morning of June 6; the insurgents are still waiting for further, more decisive attacks from the military. Enjolras takes a brief sojourn into the streets and returns with the news that the people of Paris have abandoned them. Thirty-seven insurgents remain alive behind the barricade, and they have no food and no hope of reinforcements.

Combeferre, Courfeyrac and Enjolras urge those who have wives or other family members to leave before the real battle begins as all who remain will be fighting to the death. When the men argue that they will not be able to get away due to their appearance, Enjolras produces four municipal guard uniforms, which had been taken from fallen guards. Finally, five men are identified who have families waiting. Valjean solves the problem by appearing on the scene and-upon deciphering the situation-removes his national guard jacket and drops it onto the pile. When Valjean’s identity is questioned, Combeferre and Marius vouch for him.

Enjolras gives a lengthy speech regarding the nobility of their cause. During the wait for battle, the insurgents remove Javert from the post where he is bound and tie him to a table instead.

The assault begins in the evening when a piece of artillery is rolled into place in the street. Gavroche appears in the barricade clambering nimbly over the lowest section just as the second ball from the new gun buries itself in the barricade rubble. The cannon then begins to fire grape shot at the end of the wall connecting the barricade to the wine shop. The shot ricochets off the wall, killing two and injuring three. Valjean shoots the ties holding a mattress against a house window six stories up, then goes into the street to retrieve the mattress and place it where it will absorb the grape.

Section X takes us briefly back to Cosette. She awakes, but as the house is quiet, she believes everyone else is still in bed. She alternates between hope and despair of Marius’ return as it has been three days since she has seen him.

Back at the barricade, the municipal guard continues the rounds of firing, but the insurgents refrain from return fire, thus saving their ammunition. Two soldiers appear at the top of a near by building where they can look directly down into the barricade. Warning shots from Valjean convince them to retreat. There is a short respite when Paris seems to be awakening and coming to their aid again. People fire on the military from windows and citizens throw old cookware down onto them from the rooftops. The action is quickly squelched; the generals and Minister of War focus their attention on the last 3 or 4 barricades that remain in the city.


Later in the day the militia brings a second piece of artillery into the street. This one fires cannon balls. The intent is to use the grape to keep the insurgents from firing through the wine shop windows while firing balls at the edges of the barricade to break it down. Enjolras orders return fire upon the cannoneers which kills 2/3 of them but also depletes the ammunition of the barricade. Gavroche suddenly grabs a basket and runs into the street where he worms his way through the smoke and bodies, filling the basket with the cartridges of the dead soldiers. Soon the smoke clears; the soldiers spot him and fire upon him. Magically, he evades the bullets for some time, answering each shot with cocky little rhymes. Eventually, however, a bullet strikes its mark wounding Gavroche. The next shot kills him.

In another part of the city Gavroche’s two little brothers are wandering in the garden of Luxembourg in search of food. Two members of the bourgeois are also strolling in the garden-a father and his son. The boy has a large bun of which he has taken only a bite before deciding he is through with it. The father sees the two starving children, but his response to them is only “the beginning...of anarchy.” It never occurs to him to give the food to the children. Instead he urges his son to toss the bun to the swans in the pond, to have “pity on the animals.” The sound of firing in the distance becomes louder and more intense. Thinking that the rebels may be firing on the Tuilaries, the father hurries his son away and the children retrieve the bun from the water.

Back at the barricade, Marius springs to rescue Gavroche with Combeferre behind him to get the basket of cartridges. There are 15 cartridges for each man, but Valjean puzzles them by refusing his share.

At noon in the barricade Enjolras sees a platoon of sappers approaching in the street. The insurgents rearrange a portion of the paving stones, using some of them to blockade the windows of the wine shop. The men are divided up for the best possible defense; the last man alive is to shoot Javert. At this point, Valjean requests that he be permitted to execute Javert himself. The request granted, Valjean takes the police officer over the low end of the barricade and out of sight of the insurgents. Then he turns Javert lose and tells him that if he, Valjean, survives, he is living at the Rue de L’Homme Arme under the name of Fauchelevant. He fires into the air so the insurgents will think the execution was carried out.

The narrator digresses to discuss the psychology behind revolution. (Section XXI) This is a device for creating the passage of time during which the barricade is attacked. The insurgents drive off or kill wave after wave of soldiers and the wall itself holds up well. Nevertheless, the rebels have limited numbers while the military can replace each fallen line with another. Eventually all the chiefs are killed except Enjolras, Marius, who has multiple wounds, and Valjean. A final assault on the barricade breaks it down and drives the insurgents into the wine shop. Enjolras uses his own body as a shield until they are all inside. Then he slams and bolts the door. They mount to the first floor and use their axes to cut down the spiral staircase, defending the remaining hole with anything they can find to use as projectiles or clubs. Enjolras dimly notes that Marius did not make it inside. He gives no thought to Valjean who also did not get in.

When the soldiers finally break through and climb up to the first floor, they find only Enjolras left standing and Grantaire, drunk, lying on a table. Enjolras faces them with a “menacing majesty,” silently commanding them to kill him respectfully. In the silence, Grantaire, who has slept through the entire combat, awakens, realizes what has transpired, and stands beside Enjolras. The two shake hands as the soldiers fire. With Enjolras dead, the soldiers raid the remaining houses in the area, seeking out any insurgents who may be hiding.

In the final section of the chapter (XXIV), Marius, having been struck by a musket ball, has been caught by Valjean. Valjean’s only part in the battle has been the defense of others along with carrying the wounded into the wine shop’s basement and dressing their wounds. Occasionally he would make some repairs to the barricade, all the while keeping an eye on Marius. The moment Marius is hit, Valjean springs to catch him, and, in the confusion of men trying to cram into the wine shop, he is able to cross the field of the barricade and disappear behind the corner of the six-story house of Corinth. The only escape route in through a street grating, which leads into the sewers of Paris.

Notes

In spite of his own fixation for Cosette, the Christ image of Valjean emerges again as he watches over Marius and leaps to catch him as he falls. He is not without malice, as he sees Marius as his enemy, but his desire to please Cosette overpowers and tempers his hatred. Without admitting it, he knows what Cosette wants; regardless of the pain it brings him, he will protect the one she loves and bring him to her if it lies within him to do so. The sewers of Paris are figuratively-and almost literally-the bowels of hell. To survive is to die and be reborn.

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