Chapter 1 In Paris (the narrator begins a long study of this figure) there is a certain child, a “gamin” (street urchin) of between 7 and 13 years. He is joyful even though he often goes without food, and he knows all the ins and outs of the city. He talks slang and swears like a convict, but has a good, innocent heart.
The narrator begins to undertake another example of “physiognomic” study, this time a study of Paris itself, by examining its types of inhabitants. Here he focuses on the paradoxical character of the street urchin.
Chapter 2 This child belongs to Paris. He is mischievous and delights in the Bohemia of children that is the city. He loves searching for small animals among the cobblestones and tadpoles in the ditches of the Champs-de-Mars. He is jovial and jokey, often exasperating shopkeepers.
The narrator clearly considers the “gamin” sympathetically, as an innocent child whose pastimes lack the cold calculation and scheming attitude of real, older criminals.
Chapter 3 The child usually manages to scrape together a few sous to attend the theater at night, which he adores. He easily fights, sings, and scoffs at anything grave, failing to take anything too seriously.
The gamin is a somewhat contradictory figure, both innocent and clever, scrappy and proud, jovial but eager to defend himself.
Chapter 4 Paris, the narrator says, contains the lounger—a symbol of monarchy—and the gamin—a symbol of anarchy. The gamin is made out of the same clay that made Adam (the Biblical first man), and he is against prejudice, tyranny, oppression, and injustice. But eventually he’ll grow up.
The allusion to the first humans being forged out of clay can be paralleled to the narrator’s idea of Paris, a city formed and shaped in another way out of the characters and types that inhabit it.
Chapter 5. The gamin loves to roam around and observe Paris’s secrets, places like Mont-Parnasse, Mont-Souris, and the Tombe-Issoire, all different corners of Parisian suburbs. These are filled with small children, and constitute their whole universe.
Paris’s mysteries are more enticing and exciting to children, who both are better aware of its secrets than adults and are more interested in plumbing those secrets.
Chapter 6 During the time of this book, there are hundreds of stray children in Paris. Though in other cities vagabondage for children leads to crimes as adults, in Paris there is greater purity among these street children. Nevertheless, throughout history street children could be sent to the galleys or carried off by the police to who knows where.
The narrator wants to defend his sympathy towards the street children of Paris by claiming that they aren’t sources of crime. Instead he puts the blame on the figures that cart these innocent characters off to jail, where they are more likely to become hardened criminals.
Chapter 7 “Gamins” nearly are a social caste of the city. They are strong-minded on religious themes, always watch executions, consider politicians as assassins, and admire those who are left-handed.
This portrait of the “gamin” refuses to slot the figure under a single political ideology, instead suggesting a unique view on the city.
Chapter 8 In the summer, the gamin swims in the Seine and keeps an eye out for policemen, calling out to warn the others. He loves uproar, but always wants both to overthrow the government and to get his trousers sewn back up.
Here the narrator links the gamin’s material and economic concerns with a political sympathy for anarchy, implying that one feeds the other.
Chapter 9 Famous people in French history like Voltaire and Beaumarchais have something of the gamin in them. The gamin is witty and brave: he “amuses himself, because he is unhappy.”
By linking well-known French figures to this typology, the narrator elevates the notion of the gamin to literary and historical heights.
Chapter 10 The gamin has much of grace, but also is a kind of social disease that can only be cured by light: by education, science, and the arts. The gamin expresses Paris, which expresses the world in its great diversity, including all civilizations within it.
Chapter 11 Paris has no limit. It is immense because it is daring—to dare, the narrator states, is the price of progress, and accounts for one of humankind’s great sources of light.
The narrator continues to stress the greatness of Paris despite its crime and misery, suggesting it can draw strength from its contradictions.
Chapter 12 Similarly, to depict a Parisian child is to depict the city in all its types. The narrator beseeches philosophers to spread light among this populace and determine what use to make of principles and virtues in bettering the people.
Again, the narrator focuses on contradiction and complication within Paris by exploring the inner complexities of even one small boy within it.
Chapter 13 Eight years have passed since Valjean’s arrival to the convent. A little boy of 11 or 12 years of age is known to wander around the Boulevard du Temple, conforming almost exactly to the ideal of the “gamin” sketched above, though with an emptier heart. His parents did not think of or love him, so he simply struck out on his own. Sometimes, though, he returns to see his mother at his family’s home—the Gorbeau hovel, where several individuals who don’t know each other are lodged. The housekeeper is now named Madame Bourgon, and the most wretched of the inhabitants is a family of father, mother, and two grown daughters. The father’s name is Jondrette, and he tells the housekeeper that if anyone should ever inquire for a Pole, Italian, or Spaniard, it is he. When the boy, Little Gavroche, returns home, his mother asks him few questions, though she does love his sisters. The chamber next to the Jondrettes’ is occupied by a poor young man named M. Marius.
The narrator returns to the characters and to the plot, situating his description of the gamin within the temporal and geographical range of Valjean’s and Cosette’s time at the convent. After sketching out a general picture of the gamin, the narrator now applies this sketch to one new character in particular. The Gorbeau hovel returns in this sketch, now as the former home of the gamin and the lodgings of his family, the Jondrettes, as well as the home of a poor man named Marius. That this is the same place where Valjean and Cosette once lived emphasizes the dynamic, changing character of Paris, where people’s fates are constantly connected but are also in constant turmoil.