Les Miserables: Novel Summary: Section 5 - Book Three

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Section Five - Jean Valjean
Book Three - Mire, But Soul
Jean Valjean drops with Marius into the Paris sewer. He does not know if the young man is alive or dead and at first can see nothing. He feels that the passage is narrow and that the floor is solid but slippery. Eventually his eyes adjust to the feeble light from the grating. He perceives that behind him is the termination of the branch and in front absolute darkness. Fearful of discovery he plunges into the darkness. After fifty paces he comes to the end of that passage where it runs into a transverse passage. Jean Valjean understands that to follow the descent of the ground would take him to the river and he would emerge in full daylight and be captured. He chooses to take the ascending right fork. As he walks he feels Marius' blood running over him and he hears his feeble breath against his ear.
The narrator observes that the section of sewer in which Jean Valjean was walking was confusing and presented numerous opportunities for misdirection. Jean Valjean notices that the water is now flowing in a direction that indicates he is moving downhill. He is confused but continues going forward. The narrator interjects that Jean Valjean was then walking toward the massive belt sewer. At every branch he chooses the larger opening, reasoning that smaller passages must terminate without an outlet. At one point during his groping travel he is surprised by an ominous red light behind him that reveals the shadowy outline of ten forms. These are police scouting the sewer for those who have fled the uprisings. Jean Valjean hugs the wall and the police hold a council and decide that they were wrong in believing they heard footsteps from the direction of the belt sewer. The police continue in a different direction but not before blindly discharging a shot down the corridor in which Jean Valjean stands. The shot grazes the stone above Valjean's head but causes him no harm.
At that moment another policeman on the banks of the Seine near the Point de Invalids was "spinning" a thief, which is to say, he was following a known criminal with the object of snaring his comrades. This policeman, according to orders, had a coach following him on the road above to aid in the tracking process. The criminal eventually reaches a point on the river where he must either stop or dive into the river. He slips out of sight over a small hill of rubbish and the police officer rounds this pile with the belief that his prey is trapped only to find him inexplicably gone. A sewer grating is nearby but it proves to be firmly locked. He concludes that the man must have a key to the sewers. He posts himself outside the grating and waits to see what will transpire.
Jean Valjean presses on through the sewer but his strength begins to wane. At about 3pm he arrives in the belt sewer and is surprised by the sudden enlargement of the space. The Grand Sewer is 8ft wide and 7ft high. He comes to a branching and decides that he must risk capture or expire in the sewer so he chooses to descend toward the river. At one of the branchings he notices there is a little more light and lays Marius down to inspect him. He eats the bread from his pocket and memorizes the address written upon the paper in Marius' pocket. He binds up his wounds as best he is able and then looks upon the young man with absolute hatred. He picks up Marius and resumes his journey. At one point he realizes that the pavement is giving way beneath him and that he has entered a quicksand bog but he cannot go back and presses on hoping the liquid will not rise above his head. By degrees Jean Valjean, with Marius on his back, is submerged until he must throw his head back to get air.
At the moment beyond which he will surely drown, his foot strikes a solid surface and he begins to ascend from the mire. Exhausted but resolute he presses on. Soon he perceives the white light of day ahead and he makes the final effort to reach the opening. He finds the end of the passage blocked by a locked iron work gate. It is about half-past eight in the evening and the sky is getting dark. He lays Marius on the ground and tries to shake the bars loose to no avail. He drops to his knees in dejection and thinks of Cosette. At this moment he is surprised to hear someone say: "Go halves." Jean Valjean looks up to see Thenardier before him. Thenardier does not recognize Jean Valjean and believes that he is a robber who has killed the young man and dragged him into the sewer to go through his pockets. Thenardier shows Jean Valjean that he has the key to the gate and approves of the supposed assassin wanting to use the Seine to drown the corpse.
Throughout his questioning Jean Valjean remains more or less silent. Thenardier demands to see the money and searches both Jean Valjean and Marius but finds nothing more than thirty francs. In the process of searching Marius he tears, unnoticed by Jean Valjean, a bit of cloth from Marius' coat so as to be able to identify the corpse and assassin at a later date. Thenardier takes the whole thirty francs and opens the grate before disappearing into the sewer. Jean Valjean exits the sewer only to find Javert waiting for him. He tells Javert that he will submit to arrest if Javert will allow him to take the young man to the home of his grandfather. Javert recognizes Marius from the barricade. Though Jean Valjean insists that he is alive, Javert believes him to be dead. He calls for the coach and they set off toward Monsieur Gillenormand's house. When they arrive at the house everyone is asleep. Javert calls the porter who calls Aunt Gillenormand who receives Marius. Nobody wakes the grandfather. While the Aunt calls for the doctor Javert and Jean Valjean slip outside. Inside the carriage Jean Valjean asks for permission to stop by his house and Javert orders the driver to that address. Jean Valjean's intention is to see Cosette one last time and tell her Marius' whereabouts and condition. At the entrance to Jean Valjean's street, Javert dismisses the carriage and the driver exacts a fine for the bloodstains on the interior. Javert pays out of his own pocket. He leads Jean Valjean to his door and orders him to go up. Jean Valjean goes up the stairs and happens to look out the window and sees, to his surprise, that Javert is gone.
At the Gillenormand's, the doctor examines Marius and determines that while he is still alive he has several serious wounds that will take much time and luck to heal. Chief among these is the dislocated broken shoulder blade and numerous cuts to the head. The grandfather enters the room and believing Marius to be dead begins to recant his treatment of his grandson. He declares that he had gone past holding a grudge and that Marius has gotten himself killed out of revenge. He calls to mind Marius' childhood and bemoans the death of his only beloved grandson. The physician, afraid that the old man will feint and perish, says nothing. At this moment Marius opens his unfocused eyes and the grandfather, perceiving that he is alive, falls on his knees and begs him to recover.
Analysis
Valjean's flight for safety within the sewer, carrying Marius on his back, is very difficult and dangerous. When he finally reaches a possible opening, he finds the grating to be locked and Thenardier on the other side. Thenardier does not recognize Valjean and thinks that he is a robber who has just killed his victim for money. After a brief bartering scene wherein Valjean offers him whatever money he has, he opens the grating and disappears. Valjean's safety is short lived as Javert suddenly arrives and arrests him. Valjean pleads to be permitted to bring Marius to his grandfather and also to go his own home before going with Javert and the latter agrees.
It is quite surprising to see this change in Javert's behavior toward Valjean. The biggest surprise occurs when Valjean realizes that Javert has gone and Valjean is free. One can only surmise that Javert is paying back his debt to Valjean.

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