Les Miserables: Novel Summary: Section 5 - Book One
Section Five - Jean Valjean
Book One - War Between Four Walls
The author begins this section with a description of the two great barricades that grew out of the uprisings of 1848. He then winnows back to the action of the novel (1832) and observes that Enjolras makes use of the night to strengthen the barricades and tend to the wounded. Four national guardsmen are found among the dead and Enjolras has their uniforms laid aside. The revolutionaries are out of food and Enjolras forbids them to drink the wine and brandy. There are thirty-seven of them left. They still retain hope that the city of Paris will rise up against the government and that by sundown a revolution will have begun. Enjolras, however, tells the group that the whole army has been raised and that they have little to hope for. One of the revolutionaries proclaims his belief that they must fight to the death for the republic and all jubilantly agree. Enjolras insists that those who have wives and children must use the four captured guard's uniforms to escape before the next attack. No man wants to leave the barricade but Marius supports this assertion and eventually five men step forward. As there are only four uniforms the arguments begin anew as to who can stay and who must go. Marius is asked to choose which of the four men will be required to leave and at that moment a fifth uniform is thrown in with the others. Marius raises his eyes and sees the man he knows only as Monsieur Fauchelevent standing before him. The others are suspicious but Marius says that he knows the man and he is permitted to stay. Enjolras delivers a stirring speech to the group and asks them to imagine the happy future that their sacrifice will make possible.
Afterward they move Javert to a table and in the process Javert recognizes Jean Valjean and states: "It is very natural." At dawn a ration of brandy is distributed to all the defenders. The soldiers wheel a small artillery piece into place and amid the defender's heckling discharge a shot. The cannonball only succeeds in damaging a bit of the barricade. Gavroche returns to the barricade and warns the men that they are surrounded. Marius accosts the gamin for returning to the danger. Gavroche feels vaguely guilty about not having delivered the letter directly to the addressee but tells Marius that the porter will deliver it shortly. Marius asks Gavroche if he knows the man who has joined them, Monsieur Fauchelevent, but Gavroche who only saw him in the darkness of night answers in the negative and Marius is satisfied. The soldiers renew their attack upon the barricade by firing a canister of grapeshot from their artillery piece. The grapeshot strikes the wall and ricochets causing the death of several revolutionaries. Enjolras shoots the handsome young commander of the artillery, a man that he and Combeferre agree could be their brother, which delays another shot for some minutes. The defenders of the barricade determine that they need a mattress to absorb the grapeshot and Jean Valjean, who has remained silent and not fired his weapon, asks to borrow Enjolras' double-barreled carbine. He shoots the ropes that hold the mattress hung by the old woman above her garret window and it falls into the street between the soldiers and the revolutionaries. Under heavy fire Jean Valjean goes into the street and returns with the mattress which is strategically placed against the wall where it succeeds in absorbing the grapeshot.
Meanwhile, Cosette wakes up from a dream in which Marius was coming to her surrounded by a halo. It is very early in the morning and she believes that her father is still asleep. She opens the shutters hoping to catch a glimpse of Marius coming to her but she can see only gardens. She hears a distant jarring sound that she believes comes from people shutting porte-cocheres at an unaccountably early hour. The sound is in fact the artillery piece hammering the barricade.
At the barricade, the defenders hold their fire to preserve their ammunition. The soldiers continue to pound the barricade with canon fire but it has little effect. The defenders notice that the soldiers have placed an observer with a casque on a nearby roof. Jean Valjean dispatches him and an officer who follows him by shooting their casques. When Bousset asks why he did not kill the men Jean Valjean remains silent. Soon the soldiers bring up another more powerful artillery gun that begins to dislodge pieces of the barricade. Enjolras gives the order to fire upon the artillerymen and nearly two-thirds of them fall. Though the pace of the guns is slackened, they continue to be serviced and Enjolras observes that the insurgents will soon be out of ammunition. Gavroche overhears this comment and goes into the street and begins to fill a basket with the cartridge boxes from the slain soldiers. Soon the soldiers begin to fire upon him. Gavroche stands up, begins to sing at the top of his voice and continues to gather the cartridge boxes. Shots fall all around him but Gavroche continues to sing and gather cartridges until, finally, a shot strikes him in the face. He falls, rises to his feet and again bursts into a song but it is cut short when a second bullet finds his body and kills him.
Meanwhile in the garden of the Luxembourg the two children whom Gavroche had sheltered in the elephant (and who are really his brothers) were looking for something to eat. They had crept into the gated garden and the overseer, distracted by the fighting in the city, had not seen them. The Luxembourg was beautiful and washed by rain that morning. Near a large water basin used by the swans they perceived a man and his child carrying a large bread bun coming down the path. The man, who is a bourgeois, notices the two dirty children clothed in rags standing near the swan house but he has nothing but disdain for them. His son begins to cry because he is no longer hungry and the father commands him to throw his bun to the swans. Before the swans can eat the loaf, however, the sky darkens and the sound of cannon fire increases. The bourgeois leads his child away. The older homeless child fishes the soggy bun out of the water. Mimicking Gavroche, he gives a large portion to his brother and says "Stick that in your gun."
Meanwhile, back at the barricade, Combeferre and Marius have retrieved the basket of cartridges. Marius receives a wound to his head from a musket ball that grazes it and Courfeyrac binds it with a caravan. Once the cartridges are distributed each man is left with fifteen shots. Jean Valjean refuses any cartridges. Enjolras notices that the soldiers are massing for an assault and he hurriedly directs the men to use paving stones to block up the windows of the Corinth but to leave room for muskets to fire out. Enjolras directs all the men as to how to comport themselves once the charge comes and orders the manner in which they will fall back into the shop and fight until the last man. He also gives orders that the last man to leave the basement is to take Javert behind the smaller wall next to the large barricade and execute him.
At this point Jean Valjean enters and requests permission to kill Javert himself. Enjolras grants permission and Jean Valjean leads Javert to the place of execution. Nobody sees Jean Valjean cut the cords that bind Javert and tell him that he is free. Jean Valjean tells Javert that he doesn't expect to survive the barricade but he gives the address where Javert can find him in case he does. Javert goes a few steps then turns and asks Jean Valjean to shoot him but the latter refuses and once he is gone Jean Valjean discharges his pistol into the air. Meanwhile Marius, who saw Jean Valjean lead Javert to his execution, recollects where he knows Javert from and thinks to intervene but before he can stop the execution he hears the pistol shot and Jean Valjean states that the deed is done. The assault begins and the soldiers are like waves breaking against the cliff of the barricade. Marius fights exposed above the barricade and the dead bodies pile up around him. Ten assaults are made upon the barricade and the defenders begin to run out of ammunition. Marius is hacked by numerous wounds, particularly about his head, and Enjolras alone remains untouched.
Finally the center of the barricade is breached and the insurgents fall back fighting to the wine shop. Enjolras keeps the soldiers at bay long enough for the surviving insurgents to enter the shop before he slips in and the defenders close and bar the door against the soldiers. Marius, however, has fallen from a shot that has broken his shoulder blade. He feels himself being caught by strong hands before he passes out. The soldiers begin to lay siege to the wine shop and a bloody battle ensues that concludes with all dead in the upstairs room except for Enjolras who is cornered. The soldiers recognize him as the leader and resolve to shoot him. Enjolras throws down the butt of the spent carbine he was using as a weapon and bears his chest to soldiers and commands them to shoot. Silence envelopes the room and the soldiers hesitate in the face of one who is so willing to die well. Twelve soldiers quietly prepare to execute him and before the officer gives the order to fire Grantaire, who has been passed out drunk from a mixture of absinthe-stout-alcohol since the previous day, awakes and perceives what is about to happen. He shouts "Vive la Republique" and crosses the room to join Enjolras. He asks the other man's permission to die with him and Enjolras responds by taking Grantaire's hand before the soldiers fire killing them both.
During the attack Jean Valjean had caught Marius and carried him unseen to the same sheltered spot where Eponine had died. With perhaps only a few minutes before he would be discovered and certainly killed, he looked desperately about for a way to escape. His gaze rested upon an iron grating in the street that opened to a sort of flue below the surface. Using his old prison escape instincts, Jean Valjean freed the grating, put Marius over his shoulder, used his hands and knees to lower himself and replaced the grating in a matter of minutes. He found himself in a long underground passage with the fading sounds of battle above.
Throughout the chapter, Valjean acts nobly and with valor. He shows forgiveness to those he hates even if it means risking his own life. He offers to be the one to execute Javert and secretly frees him instead. Even though he hates Marius for having taken Cosette's love away from him, he does not allow him to die and saves him by carrying him out of the barricade and escaping with him through the sewer.