Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Portrayal, by Victor Hugo

A Love Story




Real Life

Victor Hugo portrays the breakdown of family through the characters in his novel, Les Miserables, the Thenardiers. The Thenardier family, in the beginning of the novel, ran an inn to earn money so they could be sure their children were well off. Even though Monsieur and Madame Thenardier dressed in dirty and ragged clothes, they made sure their children were dressed in beautiful, new clothing, had the prettiest dolls, and all of the toys they wanted. By splurging on their children, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier showed the public that they were good, honest citizens who cared deeply about their children. In truth, the Thedardier's only thought of themselves and how they could make more money; they charged others money for performing deeds any moral person would have performed out of the goodness of their heart.

As the Thenardier children grow up Monsieur and Madame Thenardier stop treating them like princes and princesses and began treating them like street rats and street mice. Their inn has gone bankrupt, the whole family dressed in rags, they had few personal possessions, and they had moved into the Gorbeau house. Monsieur and Madame Thenardier aged along with their children, so Monsieur Thenardier taught his children how to cheat people out of money, how to panhandle, and how to be dishonest. Their children also learned that their parents gave up caring about them, so they could leave for days and not be missed by their parents. Gavroche, a son of Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, left home and lived on the street with the other street urchins. He periodically visited his parents, but Madame Thenardier made it abundantly clear that she did not want anything to do with him.

When he came there, he found distress and, what is sadder still, no smile; a cold hearthstone and cold hearts. When he came in, they would ask: "Where have you come from?" He would answer: "From the street." When he was going away they would ask him: "Where are you going to?" He would answer: "Into the street." His mother would say to him: "What have you come here for?" (Hugo, Marius Book 1, ch. XIII)

The Thenardier's may have started off in Hugo's novel as caring parents, but as the years passed they showed that they only cared about cheating people out of money and gave no regard to their children who walked out of the door to never return. Monsieur and Madame Thenardier did not mourn the loss of Eponine, their older daughter, and Gavroche when they were shot and killed in the Paris revolt; all they cared about was who they were going to steal from next.