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Posted by digdigil on 2006.12.08 at 03:05

In this section the action heats up and a few tragedies occur. Everybody get ready. Gather your Kleenex and make yourselves comfortable.

Hugo starts off this chapter by discussing the barricades of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the Faubourg du Temple that were erected during the insurrection of June 1848. He says that the barricade was raised in the name of the Revolution, yet it was fighting the Revolution. He calls the barricade chance, disorder, terror, misunderstanding and the unknown, and says it was fighting the Constituent Assembly, the sovereignty of the people, universal suffrage, the nation and the Republic.

When he returns to the story, he states that the barricade in the rue de la Chanvrerie, erected by Enjolras and his followers, was nothing but an embryo compared to the one of 1848. Enjolras’ rebels, who number thirty-seven, have no food, and he bans the drinking of wine, which they had found in the tavern. He hides the wine bottles under Pere Mabeuf’s table.

Dawn rises, Grantaire still remains in a drunken coma, and the rebels feel proud that they withstood the night attack. Enjolras returns from a reconnaissance tour only to tell his men that a third of the Paris army is concentrated on them, and he states in a moment of despair that the populace has failed them.

A voice from among the rebels cries out: “We’ll show the world that if the people have deserted the republicans the republicans have not deserted the people.”

This speech incites the men, and they cheer.

Combeferre gives a rousing talk in which he beseeches any men who have womenfolk and/or children who depend on them, to leave and return home to safety. No one wants to go, but Marius raises his voice, urging them along with Combeferre and Enjolras. And finally, five men are selected to leave the ranks. However, there are only four National Guard uniforms, so Marius is asked to choose one man out of the five who is to stay. Before he can do so, someone appears and throws down a fifth uniform. It is Valjean, who has come to join the rebels.

Enjolras stands atop the barricade steps, his fair hair blowing in the wind like “the angel on his dark chariot of stars”. He delivers an impassioned speech to the rebels. He speaks of a utopian future where nations and mankind are united; where war has been abolished, men will no longer fear famine or exploitation, prostitution, destitution, the sword or the scaffold. At the end of it he says, “We go to a tomb flooded with the light of dawn”.

In the meantime, Marius feels ready to die and he barely acknowledges Fauchelevent’s (Valjean’s) presence. Valjean does not speak to Marius either, but feels hatred for him. Enjolras returns to the tavern to speak to Javert. He asks if Javert wants anything, to which Javert replies, “When are you going to kill me?”

Enjolras tells Javert he must wait because they need all their ammunition at present. Javert asks for something to drink and for Enjolras to let him lie down.

While the men tie Javert to a table where he can lay, Valjean appears in the doorway. Javert, recognizing him, says, “So here we are!”

The men wait on the barricade for the attack to begin. A cannonball is fired and lands on the barricade at the precise moment that Gavroche returns, crying out cheerfully, “I’m back!”

The cannonball makes less of an impact than does Gavroche, burying itself in the rubble without doing anyone any harm.

Marius is upset that Gavroche has come back and asks if he delivered the letter. Gavroche does not tell Marius that he gave it to Valjean, saying instead that he delivered it to Cosette’s doorkeeper to give to Cosette later.

Enjolras is forced to kill a young gunner on the other side, and he weeps as he does so.

Jean Valjean helps the rebels by shooting down a mattress with which they can stuff a gap in their wall.

Meanwhile, back at Valjean’s house at No. 7, Cosette awakens in her room. She knows nothing of what is happening in Paris. She worries about Marius, but hopes that somehow she will be able to be with him again.

The attackers, meanwhile, keep shooting at the barricade, but without doing much damage. The grapeshot and musket balls riddle the tavern’s walls and windows, but no men are hit. However, a sapper manages to climb to a nearby roof and he is able to see down into the stronghold. Jean Valjean takes aim with his musket and shoots off the soldier’s helmet. The soldier retreats.

It should be noted that Jean Valjean does not kill anyone. Combeferre remarks, “He’s a man who does kindness with bullets.”

The rebels continue to fight but it is all rather useless. Enjolras realized they are wasting their ammunition. The men are hungry. Someone asks, “Have we really got to die without getting a bite to eat?”

Bossuet mentions that he admires Enjolras, who has chosen celibacy as a way to bolster his steadfast belief in democracy and his love for the people of France.

Because of the rebels’ depletion of ammunition, Gavroche takes it upon himself to venture out into the street beyond the barricade to loot the pouches of the fallen soldiers. He is shot at, but bravely faces the bullets, alternately ducking into doorways and darting forward to crouch over bodies in the street, searching for more bullets and gunpowder for the rebels. Eventually the foolhardy urchin is hit by a shot and stumbles, falling to the ground. He tries to rise up in a heartbreaking scene, and continues to sing a nonsensical song:

“I have fallen, I swear
It’s the fault of Voltaire,
Or else this hard blow
Has been dealt by—“

He cannot finish because he is hit again, and the poor boy dies in the street.

~ ~ ~

Next, Hugo takes us to the Luxembourg Gardens where we learn what has become of Gavroche’s two little brothers. How sad that they and Gavroche never met each other again. In this very touching section, so brilliant I thought, to come right after the shocking death of Gavroche, Hugo describes a man and his son, out for a walk in the gardens, approaching the pond. They begin to feed the swans. The boy, not wanting to eat his bun because it is stale, lets his father throw it into the pond for the swans. Unknown to them, Gavroche’s two little brothers are watching them. The boys wait until the father and son leave before they quickly retrieve the bread before the swans can reach it.

IMO, the contrast between rich and poor is never more starkly portrayed than in this scene where the well-to-do man and boy would rather feed their bread to the swans than to the two starving urchins. Although to be fair, the man and boy were never aware of the brothers’ existence.

The memory of Gavroche is poignantly invoked when the elder of his brothers uses a phrase that Gavroche had previously used to him:

“There you are. Stop your gob with that.”

~ ~ ~

Back at the barricade, Marius and Combeferre dash out into the street to carry Gavroche and the ammunition back to the tavern. They lay his body down on the table beside that of Pere Mabeuf.

Enjolras decides that manning the barricade has become futile, and the men should begin their retreat into the tavern, from where they shall defend themselves until they have no bullets left and then they must prepare to die because they are trapped. He gives the order that Javert must be executed by the last man to leave this place. Jean Valjean asks if he can be that man. Enjolras grants Valjean’s wish.

Jean Valjean drags Javert out of the tavern by the belt of his greatcoat, pulling him behind him like a dog. Javert stumbles along with some difficulty. Marius sees them pass, assuming they are victim and executioner.

On the way through the alleyway, they pass a heap of dead bodies, among which lies Eponine. Javert tells Valjean he knows her.

Javert tells Valjean to “take his revenge” and Valjean pulls out his clasp-knife. Javert assumes that Valjean will kill him by means of a knife-thrust rather than a pistol shot. But Valjean merely cuts the ropes that bind Javert. After Javert is cut loose, Valjean tells him, “You’re free to go.”

Javert stares with amazement at Valjean, who then tells him, “I don’t suppose I shall leave here alive.” He gives Javert his address. Javert starts to walk away but turns around and says:

“I find this embarrassing. I’d rather you killed me.”

Valjean tells him, “Clear out,” and after firing his pistol, he returns to the stronghold. He tells the rebels, “It’s done.”

Marius, startled, has finally recognized Javert, and is pierced by a chill to his heart at the thought that Valjean has shot the policeman.

The next section, following upon the tragedy of Gavroche’s death, deals with the deaths of the rebels. I thought this was extremely moving and terribly sad, causing me to shed a few tears. Here we go.

Hugo writes at length about insurrections and revolution and how sometimes the will of the people is not with those of the rebels who start these uprisings. He speaks of those devotees to the ideal who are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their cause. He says that men sacrifice themselves for visions which for the sacrificed are nearly always illusions.

Hugo makes the interesting statement that the modern ideal finds its prototype in art and its method in science. Do you agree in this age of seemingly more chaos than during Hugo’s time (what with the advent of the microchip leading to the computer and cell phone) that this is true?

Do you also think his other statement is true—that races petrified in dogma or demoralized by wealth are unfit for the conduct of civilization? Is civilization greater today because of our ‘global village’, or are we less sensitive because of it?

Now back to the story. The rebels defend their wall for twenty-four hours without food or rest until their ammunition runs out. Most of them are wounded. They fought in hand-to-hand combat when they had no bullets left to fire. Eventually, Bossuet, Feuilly, Courfeyrac and Joly are all killed. Combeferre is stabbed to death by a bayonet while he tries to lift a wounded soldier. Marius is injured, with many head wounds, but Enjolras remains unscathed.

Oh, how I was hoping that Enjolras would escape.

With all the leaders but Marius and Enjolras dead, the barricade gives way in the middle and the soldiers advance into it. The group of rebels who still defended the centre flee into the tavern. Enjolras retreats to the tavern also, but Marius stays outside. Marius has been shot in the shoulder, shattering his clavicle. The soldiers enter the tavern and face down Enjolras, accusing him of killing their artilleryman. Enjolras tells them to go ahead and shoot him. Hugo speaks of the radiant beauty of this brave young man, saying that the guardsman who was to shoot him, lowered his musket in awe of Enjolras, saying, “I feel as though I’d be shooting a flower.”

But a sergeant orders twelve men in the opposite corner of the room to take aim. An officer asks Enjolras if he’d like to be blindfolded. Enjolras declines.

At this moment Grantaire awakens. Nobody had noticed him asleep at a table in the tavern’s upper room. He cries out, “Long live the Republic! I’m one of them.” He strides across the room to stand beside Enjolras. “Might as well kill two birds with one stone,” he says, and turns to Enjolras. “If you don’t mind,” he adds.

At this point Enjolras clasps Grantaire’s hand in his own and smiles.

A volley rings out and Enjolras and Grantaire are killed, Grantaire collapsing at his friend’s feet. After this execution, the soldiers clear the last of the rebels out of the house.

While this is happening, Valjean has picked up Marius and carried him away. Not far from the barricade he sees an iron grille in the ground. It is unsealed and Jean Valjean is able to raise it without difficulty, disappearing with Marius into the subterranean depths of the Paris sewers.

~ ~ ~

Thus ends Book One of Part Five. A terribly sad and sobering chapter, in which many of our friends come to their end.

I wanted to ask what significance you think Gavroche and Eponine have in this story. What was their purpose, other than to further the plot? Why introduce such moving characters that seem to contribute very little and then kill them off? I just wanted to ask that question because I was interested in what people thought about this device of Hugo’s.

Next post: Monday, December 11th. We are so getting near the end, folks!!!


noliel at 2006-12-12 23:41 (UTC) (Link)
*blows nose into Kleenex* This part of the book is definitely the part I love most. An emotional rollercoaster, with all the Amis dying. ;________;

And Gavroche! I'm proud beyond words of the way he died. I think his and Eponine's (and basically a lot of the inspiring characters who ended up killed off) were possibly there to tie in with the concept of the book? Well, not the book per se, but the title, Les Miserables, and the description we had some time back as to what Hugo meant by it.

And this comment is hugely and ridiculously late, but I felt that the guilt would gnaw me in half if I didn't say anything about my absolute favourite part of the book. Darn, it's so near to finishing...only three more posting days.

digdigil at 2006-12-13 02:45 (UTC) (Link)
I was so shocked by Gavroche's death that I still can't cope with it too well. That's why I wondered why Hugo did it--after building him up so painstakingly as an unlikely hero who seemed to be able to overcome the most horrendous of upbringings (if you could call being 100% ignored by your parents an upbringing). Perhaps it was as you suggest--a device in which to illustrate the "Miserable" part of the book's title. And also to set up the ABC Society only to decimate them. Yes, I suppose there was a method to what he was doing. That in times of great revolutions there is much sacrifice of what is good. But to me--that Thenardier should live while two of his wonderful children should die--it is a sad, shocking thing.

And the death of Enjolras! Oh, the horror!

*sob* Oh, I have become quite an Enjolras fangirl!

Three more posting days? Good golly! I hadn't realized!
noliel at 2006-12-13 13:46 (UTC) (Link)
I really expected Gavroche to live, it's not fair somehow that he died. ><

And Enjolras! *is also a fangirl* I knew he was set up to die, the leader, after all, but I guess inside I thought he wouldn't- (hell, Hugo's little sentence that had all rest of the ABC amis dying came as a shock)- and then he did, but smiling. ;.; (with Grantaire who really showed everyone at the end!)

(I kept reading parts aloud from this Part to everyone, bwahaha)
duva at 2006-12-13 09:46 (UTC) (Link)
Enjolras is forced to kill a young gunner on the other side, and he weeps as he does so.

LOVE that part so much.

Oh, how I was hoping that Enjolras would escape.

Would he have even if he could have?

You know what always makes me choke up about Orestes Fasting and Pylades Drunk? This, from Night Begins to Gather Over Grantaire:

Enjolras stared at him disdainfully.

"Grantaire, you are incapable of belief, of thought, of will, of life, and of death."

Grantaire replied gravely, "You'll see."

He did see, in the end. Okay, sad. Waugh.

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