Les Miserables 76: Little Gavroche

lesmiserablesLast time we saw Marius and Cosette meet for the first time in a powerful love scene, in which they finally learned each other’s names.  True to the pattern of the story that we have seen so far, Victor Hugo brings us right up to a climactic moment and then breaks off to something completely different.

In this section of the story he deals with the character of Gavroche.  We have already met Gavroche and seen him in action on a couple of earlier occasions.  Now we are about to see him up close and personal.

We start with the Thenardiers.  We learn that they had two boys who were born after Gavroche.  Madame Thenardier despised all three of her boys.  Gavroche left of his own accord; later the Thenardiers devised a scheme to get rid of the other two boys and even make a profit.

This scheme involved Magnon, whom we have met earlier.  She had had two boys, and had succeeded in getting Gillenormand (Marius’s grandfather) to spring for their support.  But then there was a plague in the city and both boys died.  Losing them would mean losing Gillenormand’s support.  (This goes to show what kind of mother Magnon was–she cared more for the money she got from Gillenormand for her boys than for the boys.)  Somehow Magnon and the Thenardiers got connected.  They agreed that Magnon would take the two youngest Thenardier boys and raise them (Gillenormand would never know the difference), and give the Thenardiers a cut of the money she received from Gillenormand.

The two boys were well provided for under Magnon’s care, better than they had been by the Thenardiers.  But then a stroke of ill fortune fell.  Somehow Magnon was implicated in the police raid on the Jondrettes’ garret at Gorbeau House, and there was a later raid on Magnon’s house.  The boys were out playing in the backyard when this happened.  They didn’t find out until they went inside and found the house closed and empty.  Victor Hugo comments thus:

A mass arrest of malefactors like that at the Jondrette garret, necessarily complicated with subsequent searches and seizures, is truly a disaster for this hideous occult counter-society living beneath the public society; an event like this brings on all manner of collapse in that gloomy world.  The catastrophe of the Thenardiers produced the catastrophe of Magnon.

A neighbor across the street saw the whole thing go down.  Magnon gave him a note with an address where the boys were to go, and he gave it to the boys when he saw them trying to get into their house.  But as they were heading out, a gust of wind caught the paper and blew it away from them.  And now they were orphans.

This is how it is in the lowest levels of society.  Family structures are very flimsy, so flimsy that police raids can tear whole families apart and an inopportune gust of wind can instantaneously turn well cared-for children into orphans forced to live on the street.

It was at this point that they met Gavroche.  Gavroche took them under his wing and sought to show them the ropes of living on the street.  He bought bread for them at a bakery, and took them to spend the night at an elephant monument in an abandoned corner of a city park where he lived as a squatter.

Along the way, we see several instances of Gavroche’s character.  As they were passing a fourteen-year-old girl who had no warm clothes, Gavroche pulled off his muffler and gave it to her with hardly any thought at all.  At the baker’s, he gave the largest piece of bread to the older boy, saying “Pop that in your gun”, and kept the smallest piece for himself.  This despite the fact that the boys had eaten that morning while he had not eaten for three days.

Here we see Gavroche as something of a Christ figure, a character who models certain traits of Jesus Christ.  Like Jesus (during his ministry years), Gavroche had next to nothing and roamed the streets freely.  Though he had next to nothing, he was very generous with what he did have, always finding ways to bless others who were worse off than he was.

To Gavroche, these boys were just random strangers.  At no point in the story does he realize that these boys are his younger brothers.

This section of the story closes with a high-action segment describing Thenardier’s and the Patron-Minette principals’ escape from prison.  Gavroche is awakened very early in the morning and called upon to assist.  This he does in dramatic fashion, climbing three stories up a gutter pipe to rescue his father Thenardier who is stuck on top of a high wall.

In the moment when Thenardier is rescued, we see his character in gruesome detail:

As soon as he had touched the pavement, as soon as he felt himself out of danger, he was no longer either fatigued, benumbed, or trembling; the terrible things he had undergone vanished like a whiff of smoke, all that strange and ferocious intellect awoke, and found itself breathing and free, ready to march on.  The man’s first words were these: “Now, who’re we going to eat?”

It is needless to explain the meaning of this frightfully transparent word, which signifies all together to kill, assassinate, and plunder.  Eat, real meaning: devour.

Thenardier has just narrowly escaped death, and the very first thing he can think of is who he can bring death upon.

His cohorts discuss the Rue Plumet.  Eponine had brought back the biscuit, signifying that that was a no-go.  But they still wanted to check it out for themselves.  An ominous portent of things to come.

Another instance of Thenardier’s character:  At the end, as everyone is leaving, Babet pulls Thenardier aside and says that the child who rescued him looks an awful lot like his son.  Thenardier responds with shock and indifference, “What?…You think so?”, and leaves.  Thenardier’s son has just saved him from almost certain death, and the most he can feel for him is indifference.  Some kind of father.

How Radical is Radical Enough?

Today I would like to direct your attention to a growing trend in evangelicalism.  Within the past half-decade or thereabouts, we have seen several books from well-known evangelical leaders that attempt to shake us out of what they see as comfortable, middle-class, Americanized Christianity.  These books include Radical by David Platt, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, and others.  Perhaps you have read one or more of these.

These books dominated the Christian bestseller lists when they came out, and they still do.  This speaks to a growing sense in evangelicalism that our pursuit of a comfortable middle-class existence and the American dream is causing us to miss something in our Christian life.  In response, these authors attempt to jar us out of our perceived lethargy.

This is not just limited to books; a growing number of preachers are taking up the message as well.  Here is a quote from Matt Chandler’s Easter message:

So let me translate this in a way that I think probably some of you won’t like but I’m gonna love you enough to say. That believing in Jesus means that you’ve declared war on the sin in your life and that you’re serious about growing in your knowledge with God. Look at me, and if those things are not true about you, you do not believe in Jesus. You hear me? If there’s no seriousness about sin in your life and no desire for you to grow in an understanding of who God is and who Jesus is, you don’t believe in Him. You believe in Jesus like you believe in some sort of historic figure but you do not believe in Him in regards to eternal life.

In other words, it is not enough to believe in Jesus unless such belief is accompanied by visible and lasting life change.  Whether it be getting serious about fighting sin in your own life, getting serious about spreading the Gospel in other parts of the world, or getting serious about fighting poverty and brokenness in our own communities, the message is clear:  The Gospel’s demands of life change are real and far too many believers fail to satisfy these demands.

Matthew Lee Anderson has written a feature piece at Christianity Today entitled “Here Come the Radicals!”  In this piece Anderson notes the rise of the radical message and offers his own critique of where this message is lacking.  He notes that there is a lot of emphasis on what it “really” means to follow Jesus.  Most Christians don’t need to be told that they fall short of the mark in Christian discipleship.  But no one is talking about what sort of belief actually counts.  In other words, we don’t know how radical is radical enough.

The language of the radicals is filled with intensifiers; it is no longer enough to “trust and obey, for there’s no other way”.  Instead we must now really trust and truly obey.  But regardless of how you slice it, the problem is still the same because the burden of Christian discipleship lies squarely upon our own will.  It is up to us and our own efforts to move the ball forward.  Whether our decision is to receive Christ or to get serious about growing in the knowledge of Christ, at the end of the day we still have to make a decision.

There is no room in the “radical” message for the the common and the mundane.  There is no room for the possibility that a single mom working ten hours a day to provide for her family is honoring God in her vocation.  Instead it seems that being “radical” is a luxury that is only for those who can sacrifice their upper-middle-class status because–duh–they already have it!  Neither is there room for failure.  The whole point of sacrificing it all for the sake of the Gospel is for the sake of the Gospel success that will inevitably follow during your lifetime.  There is no room for the idea that God is doing something that the person who sacrifices it all for the sake of the Gospel will not see the fruits of during his or her lifetime.

Anderson then goes on to compare the present “radical” movement with prior holiness movements in evangelicalism.  The present “radical” movement is not directly connected with any of those past movements, but there is nothing new under the sun.  He closes by noting a critical irony in the “radical” message–that the call to forsake a comfortable middle-class existence and engage radically with the cause of Christ is given in the context of a community that is conformed to middle-class American culture in its worship and community practices.  For instance, it comes to us through the Christian media/conference/book industry, a lucrative culture that by its very nature is forced to think and act with profits in mind.  He closes by noting that for us, growing in Christian discipleship is not about giving up everything and moving across the world or to a poorer part of town, but in doing whatever good you can as you go through your normal life, wherever that may be.

Because I am not afraid to shamelessly pimp my own material, here is something I wrote a few months back about Francis Chan’s Crazy Love and its view of Christian discipleship.