Chapter 1 At that moment, Jean Valjean is experiencing interior convulsions comparable with the external convulsions of Paris. Cosette had resisted leaving the Rue Plumet, and the two had gone to bed at their new address in silence. That evening, Toussaint told Valjean that people were fighting in Paris, but he hadn’t fully heard her, thinking rather of Cosette’s happy future in London, and the safety they’d have abroad. Suddenly, in the mirror facing him, he saw the reflection of Cosette’s blotting-book, where she had drafted her letter to Marius before copying out a final version to send to him.
Immediately the narrator makes an explicit analogy between history and individual narrative, here by suggesting how the two can echo each other in unexpected ways. In another of Hugo’s classic coincidences, Valjean is able to learn about the love affair between Marius and Cosette by catching sight of the love letter she’d written to him, revealing the secret that they’ve successfully kept for weeks.
Now, Valjean—who has lost and sacrificed everything, and remained calm and stoic in every circumstance—seems finally, definitively blown over. He now experiences the loss of another kind of beloved. He can’t imagine existing without Cosette. He begins to piece together certain circumstances and dates, and has no doubt that they all involve Marius (whose name he still doesn’t know). He feels hate for the man—a feeling he hasn’t known for so long. In his despair, he asks Toussaint if she hadn’t said there was fighting going on. She says it’s around Saint-Merry. A few minutes later, Valjean is in the street.
The narrator draws a connection between Valjean’s feeling of loss and Marius’s, though we are meant to understand Valjean’s as far graver, since Cosette is truly the only source of love he’s ever had, and he’s managed to cling (even if tenuously) to the belief that his love for her may have redeemed him from his criminal past. Like Marius, Valjean seems to be drawn to the rioting because of his despair.
Chapter 2 Valjean pauses at his doorpost in despair, and is only shaken out of it by hearing the distant discharge of guns. Then he sees young Gavroche, apparently in search of something. Valjean asks what the matter is, and Gavroche says he’s hungry. Gavroche then flings a stone at a street-lantern, and says that this is against regulations. Valjean lays a 100-sou piece in Gavroche’s hand. Gavroche is astonished. He gazes at the coin, and then tells Valjean that he prefers to smash lanterns. Valjean tells him to keep the money for his mother, and Gavroche is touched, realizing that he wasn’t being paid off to stop breaking lanterns.
This is the first time that Valjean and Gavroche meet—an ex-member and a proud member of Paris’s underworld, respectively. Gavroche initially considers Valjean to be just another bourgeois, while Valjean can’t help but press money into Gavroche’s hand after he hears that Gavroche is hungry. Though Valjean himself has grown gentle, he does not condemn or judge the kind of exuberance that leads Gavroche to smash lanterns along the street.
Warming to Valjean, Gavroche asks him where No. 7 is. An idea coming to him, Valjean asks if he’s bringing the letter he is expecting—a letter, rather, for Mademoiselle Cosette. Gavroche says he must know that the letter came from the barricades, and Valjean says he does. Valjean asks for the letter, as well as where the answer is to be sent. Gavroche tells him it’s the barricade of the Rue de la Chanvrerie, and then he wanders away into the darkness.
Gavroche is obviously eager to get back to the fighting, so he jumps at the opportunity to rid himself of the letter and fulfill his obligation to Marius, who did, after all, just save his life. Valjean once again takes advantage of his skills in subterfuge to get the letter from Gavroche, as he suspects it holds more information on Cosette’s unknown lover.
Chapter 3 Valjean goes inside with Marius’ letter and reads only “I die. When thou readest this, my soul will be near thee.” He feels a sudden joy at the death of this man that he hates—a death in which he’s had no part. He only has to let things take their course. But having said this to himself, Valjean feels gloomy. An hour later, Valjean goes out in the costume of the National Guard, with a loaded gun under his arm.
This train of thought recalls precisely what Valjean (as Madeleine) had contemplated when he learned that Champmathieu was about to be prosecuted for a crime he didn’t commit. The fact that Valjean now immediately turns gloomy, however, suggests that he won’t take as long deliberating his actions this time.
Chapter 4 Meanwhile, Gavroche heads back to the barricades, singing. Suddenly he stops short, seeing a hand-cart by the side of the street and a drunken man from Auvergne sleeping within it. He thinks how perfect the cart would be for the barricade, and slowly tips the Auvergnat out. He writes a note saying that the French Republic received the cart, sign it Gavroche, and places it in the man’s pocket.
In contrast to people like Thenardier, who steal out of greed or else for the pure malice of it, Gavroche is shown to retain a kind of innocence and sympathetic feistiness, treating his theft of the wheelbarrow as a kind of loan which he’ll find a way to repay later.
Gavroche races off to the Halles, pushing the cart before him, which makes a great deal of noise. The National Guard squad wakes up, and the sergeant suggests that a whole band is out there. As he turns a street, he finds himself face to face with an armed man in uniform. Gavroche quickly recovers his pluck and starts to answer saucily to the guard’s questions, finally saying that he’s on his way to look for a doctor for his wife in labor. This infuriates the sergeant, who calls for his men to fire. Gavroche hurls the cart at him and races back down the street, now only concerned about how to reach the barricade in time.
Gavroche may think himself to be a seasoned warrior, but his carefree attitude suddenly catches up with him, even as he attempts to distract the National Guardsman with his jokes and wit. Gavroche is unwilling to part with his newly adopted hand-cart, the perfect accessory for battle, but he finally rids himself of this exciting illusion in order to scamper away and rejoin the barricade.