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The novel contains multiple conflicts and subplots. The major conflict threaded through the book
is between Valjean and Javert. Valjean has served his time and earned release from prison, but it
is release with a yellow passport-meaning everywhere he goes, everyone from employers to
landlords will know that he is an ex-con. This makes him suspect even when he is innocent of
any wrong doing. Javert sees the law as an answer for everything, and no exception should be
made regardless of how small the crime.
The situation is complicated when Valjean takes upon himself the care of Cosette, as he feels
responsible for the death of her mother. With Cosette, Valjean learns to love and the bitterness of
the years of injustice melt away. He thinks of himself as a convict and makes no excuses; his
only reason for hiding and avoiding Javert is to protect Cosette and his fatherly relationship with

Additional minor conflicts occur between Marius and his Grandfather, between Marius and
Valjean, and between Valjean and Thenardier.


The major plot involves Jean Valjean who is released from prison, and through the kindness of
Father Myriel, becomes a new man. He gets a new name via association with Myriel and his
obvious kindness and generosity to others and gradually builds a successful and prosperous life
for himself with a renovation of the jet-work industry in Montreuil-surmer. One of his employees
is-although unknown to him-fired by the head mistress because of an illegitimate baby. Fantine
goes from one occupation to another, finally becoming a prostitute.
A minor incident takes place in the streets, and Fantine is arrested by Javert. Valjean, who has
become known as Mayor Madeleine, forces Javert to release her and takes her into his own house
when he hears her story. Fantine is in extremely poor health, however, and dies without ever
seeing her child again, even though Valjean had promised to get the child.
Meanwhile, another man has been arrested and mistakenly identified as Valjean. Valjean appears
in court, revealing the truth and losing both his business and his position in Montreuil-sur-mer.
Although he is arrested, he breaks out long enough to hide his fortune. He spends additional time
in prison, working aboard a ship. Eventually he escapes again and retrieves Cosette from the evil
Thenardiers whom Fantine had trusted to take care of the child.

Then begins 10 years of hiding, moving from place to place, always staying just ahead of Javert.
Seven or eight happy years are spend in a convent where Valjean works with the gardener and
Cosette attends a girls school.
Feeling that Cosette must have opportunity to experience all of life, they leave the convent when
she is about 15. Valjean is nearly betrayed and recaptured due to the insidious if somewhat
unwitting deeds of the Thenardiers.
While Valjean is continuously on the lookout for people who might have guessed his identity and
makes their home always in out of the way places, Cosette becomes aware of her own femininity
and beauty. She and Marius spot each other and fall in love.
Marius is a college student who has been raised by his grandfather after the old man had
disowned his son-in-law for supporting Napoleon. Marius discovers the truth about his father
shortly after his death and enmity develops between himself and his grandfather. With little
income, Marius in unable to marry Cosette and prevent Valjean from taking her away again, and
his grandfather refuses to give consent for a marriage to someone he assumes is beneath him.
In Paris, politics, work issues, and various unsatisfactory conditions are gradually bringing a
faction of workers and college students to the point of revolt. An insurrection takes place; Marius
joins in hoping to die since he will not be able to have Cosette. Valjean joins the insurrection
because he believes he is losing Cosettes love and because, although he hates him bitterly, he
intends to try to protect Marius for Cosette.
When the barricades are finally overtaken, Valjean rescues Marius and escapes through the city
sewers. Marius is unconscious and does not know who rescued him. When his health returns, he
insists once again on marrying Cosette, and this time the grandfather relents. Old wounds are at
least partially healed. As Javert is also dead, it would seem that Cosette, Valjean, Marius and his
grandfather could all form one happy family. Cosette and Marius marry, but Valjean reveals the
truth of himself to Marius who gradually banishes him from even seeing Cosette.
The Thenardiers are a continuous nuisance and occasionally a real threat throughout the book,
but in spite of Thenardiers intention to bring harm to Valjean, he actually reveals the truth of
Valjeans history to Marius.
Valjean dies in the end, but it is with contentment after a joyful reunion with Cosette. He is
content to know that Cosette and Marius have forgiven him, although it seems as though
Valjean himself is the one who has the right to be on the forgiving end of things.