Often in literature, characters struggle to overcome circumstances beyond their control. In the novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, the author explores the stories of multiple characters living in poverty in 19th century France. Poverty creates the “ruin of women” displayed by Fantine and Eponine, the “dwarfing of childhood” shown by Cosette and Azelma, and the “degradation of man” revealed by Thenardier and Jean Valjean. In the novel, Fantine and Eponine display the “ruin of women” by poverty.
Eponine, a teenaged girl, lives with her family in destitution. Sent by her father, Eponine visits a man seeking money. She deliberately exposes herself in an attempt to acquire more than he may have been willing to give.
After receiving this payment, Eponine hastily covers herself. The man “gave the five francs to the young girl. She took the piece eagerly [and] drew her chemise up over her shoulders” (Hugo 204). By quickly covering herself, it is clear that Eponine is not comfortable using her body for money. However, her overwhelming poverty causes her to behave in this manner. Fantine, a factory worker who recently lost her job, finds herself struggling to support her daughter.
Fantine also displays this poverty-induced desperation by selling her hair, teeth, and body for the better good of her child. Fantine goes to extreme lengths to protect her child from being exposed to the poverty she experiences everyday. Fantine later becomes very ill and dies. Fantine is ruined by the prostitution she is forced into and her illness. Shortly before her death, Fantine says, “‘so many misfortunes have befallen me’” (Hugo 98). Fantine’s life has been destroyed by her absolute poverty and her inability to escape it.
In addition, Cosette and Azelma exhibit the “dwarfing of childhood” by poverty. Azelma is a young girl born into an extremely poor family. Upon expecting a wealthy visitor, Azelma’s father convinces h…