Chapter 1 Just after ten o’clock, a young, merry voice sings a popular ditty. Enjolras and Combeferre realize that it’s Gavroche, warning them. Gavroche arrives and says the enemy is here; he grabs Javert’s gun. 43 insurgents kneel inside the barricade, six in the windows of the tavern. After several minutes, heavy, numerous footsteps become audible. From within the darkness, a voice asks, “Who goes there!” and Enjolras responds, “The French Revolution!” The street erupts in light as the army fires, felling the red flag and wounding several men through the barricade. Enjolras picks up the flag and asks who is bold enough to mount the flag again. No one answers.
Enjolras explicitly situates the group’s identity and purpose within history, tying the barricaders to the French Revolution and thus claiming that they are only seeking to establish the “real” France: one of liberty and equality. The French Revolution as a symbol and rallying point has been claimed by various political groups throughout history, though, and Enjolras’s claim (suggesting that the soldiers are not really French) is a major provocation.
Chapter 2 Since the arrival at Corinthe, Mabeuf has been installed behind the counter at the wine-shop, lost in thought. The mass firing of shots rouses him, however, and he crosses the threshold as Enjolras asks if anyone will volunteer to raise the flag. He strides up to Enjolras, grabs the flag, and begins to ascend the staircase of the barricade. All around him take off their hats. Mabeuf’s wrinkled face, open mouth, and aged arm seem to make him a specter from ’93. When he reaches the last step, he installs the flag and shouts, “Long live the Revolution! Long live the Republic!” A voice from the darkness calls out to him to retire. Mabeuf repeats his words and then is fired upon, and he falls backwards to the pavement.
Throughout the novel, Mabeuf has remained a peripheral character, occupied with his small loves and interests, but here he makes an active choice to insert himself into history. Without having anything else to live for, Mabeuf feels ready to die for the Republic. This is an example of enormous courage for the rest of the group, as Mabeuf martyrs himself, attempting to retrieve a kind of meaning lost in his life in his final moments before death.
Courfeyrac whispers to Enjolras that the man was not a member of the Convention of Terror, but was in fact a brave blockhead named Mabeuf. Enjolras raises his voice and proclaims that the man has set an example of courage. He shows the holes in Mabeuf’s coat to the crowd and says this is now their flag.
To the others, Mabeuf underlines the relationship between the Revolution and their own efforts, though Courfeyrac and Enjolras are able to grasp the more complicated side of Mabeuf’s actions.
Chapter 3 Several men bear Mabeuf’s body to the table of the tavern. At once Gavroche shouts to look out—bayonets are rising over the barricade and almost taking it. The largest soldier marches on Gavroche with his bayonet. Gavroche fires with Javert’s gun, but it isn’t loaded, and the man laughs at him, before suddenly being struck by a bullet—the work of Marius, who’s just entered.
Gavroche now begins to shed his childlike innocence and play a crucial part in the battle, serving as watchman and alerting others to possible dangers. The narrator suggests that the man who laughs at Gavroche might have gotten his proper revenge in being slain by Marius.
Chapter 4 Marius had not been able to hesitate after witnessing Mabeuf’s death and the threat to Gavroche. As he enters the tavern, a soldier takes aim at him, but a young workman in velvet trousers lays a hand on the muzzle: the shot pierces the hand but doesn’t strike Marius. Marius sees this happen in a confused way, but has no time to process it. Enjolras calls out to fire. Then Marius calls out from the second floor for the army to depart, or he’ll blow up the barricade with the barrel of powder he holds. A sergeant cries that he’ll blow up himself with it, and Marius agrees, dropping his torch towards the barrel. But the army flees back into the night.
As Marius enters the fray, events take place that are far more visible to the narrator (and reader) than to him and the other characters, for whom the battle is increasingly chaotic and desperate. Still, this desperation has some advantages for the rebels, since the National Guardsmen aren’t sure what this group is capable of—if they’d be willing to blow themselves up, for example. The army isn’t willing to take that chance, so the rebels briefly gain the upper hand.
Chapter 5 The group gathers around Marius, and Enjolras proclaims that he is now the leader. Cosette’s loss, the fighting at the barricade, Mabeuf’s martyrdom, and now Enjolras’s proclamation all seem like a nightmare for Marius. He doesn’t recognize or even see Javert. Meanwhile, the army is swarming around the end of the street, though they don’t dare reenter. The insurgents realize that one of them, Jean Prouvaire, is missing, and must have been taken prisoner. Then they hear a voice calling “Long live France,” and then a shot. Enjolras turns to Javert and says Javert’s friends have just shot Jean Prouvaire.
For Marius, these scenes are taking place as in a dream, rather a “nightmare.” His loss of Cosette, followed by Mabeuf’s death, seems so terrible and unbelievable that he has trouble grasping that it’s true. Meanwhile Enjolras turns to Javert, evidently to suggest that what his friends did to Jean Prouvaire must be done in return to Javert, enacting the kind of justice only suitable for the battlefield.
Chapter 6 Marius recalls another small, deserted barricade, and heads that way. A voice calls his name, and he looks around before seeing a figure crawling on the pavement: someone in a blouse and torn velvet trousers, collapsed in a pool of blood. It is Eponine, who says she is dying. Marius cries out that she is wounded, and he’ll carry her inside. He asks what’s wrong with her hand, and she says it’s pierced with a bullet—she stopped the gun aimed at him. The bullet crossed her hand and went out through her back, she says. She simply wants him to sit down next to her.
Eponine has been described to us in the past few chapters as a pale, freckled young man. The velvet trousers allow us to trace her from Marius’s home to the barricades, where she, like Mabeuf, decides to make one final move, inserting herself into history and ensuring that her last few moments before death will be spent with the person she loves: Marius.
Eponine says that she initially didn’t know why he wanted to see that Rue Plumet house. He must think her ugly, she says. She had wanted to die before Marius, but now she’s content—everyone will die, she says, but now she can remember all the times she’s seen and talked to him. At that moment Gavroche again sings a popular song, and Eponine hears and says it’s her brother, who must not see her or he’ll scold her. Eponine seems to grow weaker, and she tells Marius that she has a letter for him that she was supposed to put in the post, but kept—she hopes he isn’t angry. Marius takes the letter, and promises, according to what she asks, that he’ll kiss her when she’s dead. As she’s about to die, she smiles and tells Marius that she was a little bit in love with him.
Eponine doesn’t speak very intelligibly or logically, but it’s clear that she’s finally taking this opportunity, her last one, to confide in Marius about how much she loved him, implying how excruciating it has been for her to see his love for Cosette and to contribute to it in her own way. Several threads of the novel are thus tied together, as Marius discovers the relationship between Eponine and Gavroche, two figures of Paris’s underworld who nevertheless found very different ways of inhabiting it.
Chapter 7 Marius keeps his promise and kisses Eponine. He lays her on the ground and goes to the tavern, where he sees a letter from Cosette giving her address from that night (June 4th), and saying she’ll be in England in a week. It had all been Eponine’s doing. She had disguised herself as a man, given Valjean the warning to leave his house, and had taken a letter from Cosette, who thought she was giving it to a young workman, with orders to deliver it to Marius’s address. Eponine had waited for Marius at his home, but when Courfeyrac said they were going to the barricades, she had decided to join. There she had died with the tragic joy of jealous lovers who want to drag their beloveds into death with them.
It becomes evident that Eponine, in her final night alive, was torn between wanting to contribute to Marius’s happiness and desiring to know her beloved’s every secret, even if it meant concealing this letter from him, instead of giving it to him earlier. The narrator reminds us once again about the ambivalence of love, which can mean goodness and generosity but also lead to selfishness, thoughtlessness, and greed.
Marius is for a moment overjoyed that Cosette still loves him, but then somber again when he realizes that nothing can be done about their situation. He writes a note saying that their marriage was impossible, and that he now would die. On a second note he writes his name and grandfather’s address, writing that his body should be taken there. Marius asks Gavroche to leave the barricade now and deliver the first letter tomorrow morning—the barricade will not be attacked until daybreak. Gavroche wants to stay, but can think of no reply. Gavroche runs off, thinking that he’ll deliver the letter at once and then get back in time to fight.
Marius hasn’t changed too much, as his thoughts immediately turn back to Cosette, and Eponine, despite her best attempts, is forgotten. Now Marius seems to have embraced his love for Cosette so much that he’ll refuse to live without it. Gavroche, in turn, wants to be loyal to Marius, who saved his life, but he’s also unwilling to retake the role of street gamin and miss out on this, his greatest adventure yet.