Study Guide

Les Misérables Part 1, Book 2

By Victor Hugo

Part 1, Book 2

The Outcast

  • On a cold October evening, a stranger enters the town of Digne and stops by the Town Hall. A local police officer eyes him suspiciously and then goes into the Town Hall to find out what the man wanted.
  • A little later, the traveller stops at an inn and asks for a room and some food for the night. The innkeeper says it's all good as long as the dude can pay. So the traveller sits by the stove to warm up and waits for dinner.
  • While he's waiting, the innkeeper sends a note to the Town Hall and soon gets a response. When he reads the note, the innkeeper changes his mind about the traveller and tells him to leave the inn immediately. No room at the inn for him tonight.
  • The traveler heads down the road and tries another inn, this one cheaper than the first. This innkeeper offers him supper and a bed for a fair price. But as luck would have it, some dude is staying in the inn who remembers seeing the traveller earlier that day. He calls the innkeeper over and whispers something to him. Seconds later, the innkeeper tells the traveller to get out of his inn immediately. No supper and no bed for you, Mr. Traveller.
  • Next, the traveler tries a person's house. But the man who answers the door grabs his gun and tells the traveller to go away.
  • Now it's time to get a little more desperate. The traveller tries to sleep in a doghouse, but the dog inside it doesn't like to share
  • Finally, the traveler lies down on the steps of the town cathedral, shivering. A woman passes him and tells him to try knocking on the door of Bishop Myriel's house.
  • Okay, Hugo. We'll bite. Why are people throwing this guy out of their inns?
  • When the traveller knocks on Bishop Myriel's door, he expects to be chased away. But instead, the Bishop welcomes him inside, offers him a clean bed, and sits him down as a guest of honor for dinner. How's that for compassion?
  • The traveller introduces himself as Jean Valjean. Since the Bishop is being so nice, Valjean decides to come clean. He tells the Bishop that he is an ex-convict just released from a 19-year prison sentence. That's why everyone in town has been turning him out into the street—but Bishop Myriel thinks it's nbd.
  • Over dinner, Jean Valjean tells Bishop Myriel how he (Valjean) once worked as a tree pruner and got arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He would have only gone to prison for a few years, but he kept getting more time added to his sentence because he tried to escape three times
  • Also, Valjean can't help but notice how beautiful and expensive the Bishop's silverware is. Dun dun dun …
  • After supper, everyone heads off to sleep. But Jean Valjean isn't used to sleeping on such a nice bed, and he wakes up in the middle of the night.
  • As he lies awake and stares at his bedroom ceiling, visions of the Bishop's beautiful silverware dance in his head. He gets out of bed and sneaks into the Bishop's bedroom, grabbing one of the silver candlesticks. It really looks like he's going to bash the guy's head in. He decides not to at the last second, but he does take off with the dude's silverware in a sack.
  • While this nail-biting sequence is happening, the author gives us a long account of how Jean Valjean's misfortunes in life eventually turned him from a good guy into a desperate, beastly man who thinks more about his next meal than any kind of morality.
  • The next morning, Bishop Myriel goes to sit in his garden. Moments later, his housekeeper runs out and shouts that all the silverware is missing, along with the convict from the night before.
  • Without any further fuss, the Bishop goes inside and sits down to breakfast. Then, there's a knock at his door. It's three police officers holding Valjean. They caught him leaving town with all the silverware—very suspicious.
  • Does the Bishop rant and rail about Valjean's ungratefulness and betrayal? No, he does not. He totally goes along with Valjean's story and pretends that the cutlery was a gift. In fact, he picks up two silver candlesticks that Valjean apparently "forgot" to take with him. Valjean and the officers are all stunned. But the officers eventually have no choice but to let him go.
  • Before letting Valjean leaves, the Bishop makes him promise to use the money from the silverware to become an honest, moral man.
  • Jean Valjean hits the road out of town, totally dazed. He sits down along the road to think, and doesn't even notice when a boy passing by drops a coin and watches it roll under Valjean's foot. The boy asks for his coin back, but Valjean is so distracted that he just tells the boy to go away. The boy figures that Valjean is robbing him, so he runs away crying foul.
  • Later, Valjean realizes what has happened. But it's too late. The boy is gone.