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BOOK SEVENTH: The Last Drop in The Chalice
Valjean visits Marius early enough in the morning that Cosette is not yet awake. Marius calls him father, significant for the fact that it comes close to breaking an icy barrier that has always stood between himself and Valjean. Valjean refuses the invitation to breakfast and bluntly states that he is an old convict. There is nothing wrong with his arm, but he had worn the sling at the wedding to avoid having to sign the marriage documents under false pretenses. Marius challenges Valjean, asking why he bothered to come forward now. Valjean insists that it is because he is an honest man and could not live with himself if he did otherwise. By facing the condemnation of others, he creates his own salvation. Marius promises not to tell Cosette and they agree that he will visit her every evening in a downstairs room.
Once Valjean is gone, Marius ponders the situation, recalling times when he had seen Valjean-the Jondrette garret and the barricades. He realizes that he did not ask questions about certain things because he was afraid of the answers. Nevertheless, he cannot deny that the man he perceives as the very shadow or darkness has protected, raised and nourished Cosette into an “angel of light.”
It is the ultimate irony that an old convict reveals the truth of his past for the sake of honor. But as he says, his misfortune “is a cord” in his heart which he can never break. He claims he never really had a family and thus cannot belong to that of Gillenormand. He admits that on the day that Cosette was married, life was essentially over for him. For her, he could have continued the lie, but she has no need of him now, and he cannot lie for himself. He further acknowledges that even with Javert gone, he is a hunted man. He is hunted by himself, urged, and checked by himself. And even though it cannot make sense to Marius, it is by degrading himself in Marius’ eyes that Valjean elevates and redeems himself in his own.
It seems that with Javert gone, Valjean still feels the need to atone for his misdeeds. He has condemned himself for something so minor, it makes the modern reader cringe to think of it. In order to be free of that condemnation, he must find someone else with the power to condemn and punish him.