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Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 3, Book 1 : Marius (Paris Atomized) | Summary



Just as the forest has its sparrows, Paris has its gamins (street urchins with no families). After the narrator provides some background on homeless children in Paris, not an uncommon sight in the period he is writing about, he goes on to describe the characteristics of these street urchins and how they live. He then drills down to a particular gamin, full of joy despite not having food to eat every day or other necessities of life. He is 11 or 12, sleeps in the street, and knows gang members, thieves, and robbers.

He is Gavroche, the son of the Thénardiers, now calling themselves the Jondrettes, and has been kicked out by them. After the tavern went bankrupt, they moved to Paris. Eight or nine years have passed since Cosette entered the convent school. Gavroche Thénardier was a toddler at the time. The Thénardiers have rooms in the Gorbeau House, among others of the "indigent class which begins with the petty bourgeois in embarrassed circumstances and descends [to] ... the sewer sweeper and the ragpicker." Although Gavroche's mother loves his sisters, she doesn't love him, and he visits them only occasionally. Next door to the Jondrettes lives a poor young man named Marius.


This book introduces the forgotten Thénardier child who is now living on his own in the streets of Paris. Hugo takes some time for social commentary, indirectly criticizing a state that neglects its most vulnerable—children. The motif of orphaned children reappears in this book and will continue when the narrative follows Gavroche's story. The gamins are compared to sparrows, which is a biblical allusion referencing Jesus's reassurance that not a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing it and "the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29–31). Of course there is some situational irony here: no one cares for these children, and if the hairs on their head are numbered, no one seems to be counting. This is the other side of Hugo's faith, which is skepticism about God's presence in the world.

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