The Underworld

The Children of Paris


The System

Famous Crime





"Paris has a child and the forest has a bird; the bird is called the sparrow; the child is called the gamin."

Les Miserables, Marius, Book 1

Merriam-Webster Online defined gamin as "a boy who hangs around on the streets"; the gamine is his female counterpart. In Les Miserables, it is safe to say that the gamin and gamine are either the most or one of the most sympathetic subclasses in the novel. In fact, Hugo had a lot to say about them. He describes them with phrases like "cherub of the gutter" and "dwarf of the giantess" (Hugo 503). In fact, he devotes the first book of Marius to them. The following list is a summary of the things Hugo admires about the gamin:

  • The gamin has a perpetually cheerful manner
  • The gamin, being a child, is naturally "pure"
  • "He is, in his nature, but slightly academic" (Hugo 505)
  • The gamin is intrepid
  • The gamin is cautious and clever

These are but five of the many commendations Hugo gives to his class of urchins, and the way he represents them makes it very difficult to find any disagreement. His strongest representation of the gamin is in the character Gavroche.

An image of Gavroche from Les MisÚrables on-line text edition; first published in 1862; by Thomas Y. Cromwell & Co. Here Gavroche shows his cleverness and playful side as he grabs a drunken man (the figure on the ground)'s cart to add to the barricade. One should note the gleeful smile on his face as he looks back at the drunken man. Gavroche, despite his misgivings towards his wayward parents, was the epitomy of merriment (which of course is one of the trademarks of the gamin).

Who was Gavroche? "He was one of those children so deserving of pity from all, who have fathers and mothers, and yet are orphans . . . His parents had thrown him out into life with a kick. He had quite ingenuously spread his wings, and taken flight" (Hugo 518).

Gavroche is the child of the Thenardiers. He is the middle child, for we later learn that he has two younger brothers besides having two older sisters. He and his brothers live out in the street, and later in the novel, he takes them in. However, after his death at the barricade (where he acted at the forefront), his little brothers are left to fend for themselves.

When Hugo says that Gavroche deserves the most pity, he makes sure that the reader feels that way as well. Gavroche's short life is all the same extraordinary, and his death has the same terrible beauty as that of Enjolras. He is "the ideal of the gamin previously sketched" (Hugo 518).

An image of Gavroche from Les MisÚrables on-line text edition; first published in 1862; by Thomas Y. Cromwell & Co. Here Gavroche shows the natural goodness of the gamin's child nature. In this image, he has adopted two more little gamin and is putting them to bed in his home--poor as it may seem, no one else bothered to take them in, and so Hugo shows the altruistic side of the gamin.


This page was created by M. Childs