As the next day dawns, Valjean returns to Fantine. Sister Simplice says that Fantine will be upset not to see Cosette. Sister Simplice says that they cannot tell a lie and pretend that Cosette is here—but if Fantine just doesn’t see the mayor, they won’t have to. But Valjean insists on seeing her. Fantine is asleep and looks pale and angelic. Then she wakes up, smiles, and says, “And Cosette?”
Sister Simplice’s emphasis on not telling a lie begins to clash here with a separate question, one of mercy shown to Fantine, and now she too must make a decision about her moral priorities. For Valjean, this kind of mercy immediately overtakes any other considerations he might have.
Chapter 2 Valjean is rendered speechless by Fantine’s certainty. She asks him again to bring Cosette into the room, but the doctor enters, and says that she must be cured first. Fantine protests, saying that she cannot wait, but then bows her head and apologizes for contradicting the doctor. She asks Valjean how Cosette is doing, and he says she is beautiful and well and that Fantine will see her soon. A child is playing and singing in the yard outside the window, and Fantine imagines it is Cosette.
Again, Valjean feels fewer moral scruples than Sister Simplice in lying to Cosette in the interest of preserving Fantine’s health and happiness. Here, Fantine has reverted to the sweet, simple, and meek child that had gone to Paris from the countryside, as is shown in her obedience towards the doctor and to Valjean.
Suddenly Fantine turns silent and pale, and as Valjean turns around he sees Javert in the doorway.
Javert, for Fantine, is the antithesis to Madeleine’s mercy.
Chapter 3 Immediately after Valjean had left the court earlier that day, the district attorney had insisted the man was mad. He was at odds with what everyone else believed, but ultimately the district attorney was committed to convicting a Jean Valjean, so he sent Javert off to arrest Madeleine. Javert had seemed cool and calm, and upon reaching Fantine’s room his face took on the terrible aspect of the demon who has just found a damned soul and feels enormously satisfied—especially after his pride had been wounded by accusing the wrong man. Javert feels that he has authority, reason, and the law on his side against evil. The narrator notes that sincerity, conviction, and duty can be noble and majestic, but can become hideous when misdirected by error.
The district attorney seems to have a unique notion of justice. Once the gears of the legal system have been set into motion, he cannot accept that no one is at fault, so someone must be pursued and punished. The narrator portrays Javert as a complex symbol of authority. On the one hand, his apparent satisfaction at having “caught” Valjean—thus redeeming his own mistake—seems petty and wrong, but seen from another way, Valjean is in fact a convict, and Javert possesses a narrow but strong desire to pursue what he sees as justice.
Chapter 4 Fantine is terrified and shouts to Madeleine to save her, but he tells her that Javert has not come for her. Javert grabs Valjean by the collar, and while Fantine shrieks, Valjean asks Javert if he can say a word to him alone. Javert refuses to give him a private ear, so Valjean asks right there if he may be given three days to fetch the child of this woman. Fantine then realizes that Cosette is not there. Javert tells her that the mayor is in fact a common thief. Fantine looks from one to the other, opening her mouth as if to speak, but her teeth chatter and she falls back on the pillow, dead.
For Fantine, Javert epitomizes the danger of the law for those who are forced to live below or outside it. Her anxiety is then transferred to Javert’s new prey, Madeleine, as it seems that Fantine’s enemy is now subduing her hero. Javert essentially forces Valjean to give up the ruse he had carefully cultivated, that Cosette was in fact present. Again guilt and responsibility grow complex here, as both Valjean and Javert have in a way caused Fantine’s death.
Valjean says to Javert that he’s murdered her, but Javert angrily yells at him to follow him. Valjean whispers to him not to disturb him for a moment, and Javert trembles but stays still. For a few moments, Valjean speaks to Fantine. No one hears him, but to Sister Simplice it seems Fantine’s lips break into a smile. Then, Valjean says he is at Javert’s disposal.
For a moment, even Javert seems to bow to Valjean’s quiet fury and acknowledge the moral rightness of what he is about to do. Valjean subsequently understands that his past has finally caught up with him, and accepts this.
Chapter 5 Javert brings Valjean to prison. At the word “convict,” nearly everyone in town deserts him, forgetting all the good he had done, and the indignant gossip spreads through the town. Only a few people remember him fondly and sadly, including the porter who had served him.
Just as the association of Champmathieu with the word “convict” had condemned him, these same suggestions cause the townspeople to desert Valjean and revive their old judgments and suspicions.
The first evening after his arrest, the porter prepares Madeleine’s room without thinking, then sighs at the realization that he’s gone. But at that moment the lodge’s window opens and a hand seizes the key—it’s Valjean. He broke a window bar and escaped. He asks the porter to fetch Sister Simplice but doesn’t explain how he got past the large courtyard gates (and no one ever finds out). He takes the 40-sou piece and candlesticks that he had thrown into the fire and writes a note saying that these are the stolen goods he had mentioned at court. Sister Simplice comes into the room, her eyes red, and Valjean gives her money and asks her to use it for the funeral of Fantine.
The porter, one of the few who has retained a love for Valjean, is now rewarded for this loyalty by being present and able to assist Valjean in his escape. The 40-sou piece and candlesticks are again reminders of the past life Valjean had believed he had shaken off. Here, they seem to serve as both evidence for this past life and as a suggestion for the path Valjean will now take, including paying respect to Fantine through a proper funeral.
They hear the porter downstairs swearing that no one has entered the house all day. Javert ’s voice responds saying that there’s a light in the upstairs room. Valjean blows out the light, and Javert enters, as the nun is praying. Javert has great respect for all authority, and his first instinct is to withdraw, but he knows Sister Simplice has never told a lie in her life. He asks if she’s alone, and she says yes. Then says she has not seen Valjean —lying twice. Javert asks her forgiveness and withdraws: he pays no attention to the candle, just extinguished, on the table.
Javert is clearly not a brute—his understanding of legal and moral hierarchies gives him a belief in a certain kind of respect, even if this is different from the kind of mercy shown by Valjean. Sister Simplice has already struggled between her desire never to lie and other ethical questions, but only now does she overcome this (morally defensible) position for what she sees as a more just motivation.
The priest responsible for the money that Valjean had given to Sister Simplice for Fantine’s proper burial believed he was doing right in not using all of it, since the affair concerned only a convict and a prostitute. Fantine is thus buried in a pauper’s grave, where only God knows where to find her.
Like the superintendent at Fantine’s workhouse, this priest believes he is acting for good, and so the narrator again shows how justice can be warped even by those who are well-intentioned.