Gavroche is a universal favourite. He's impossible to dislike. He stands out with his cheek and cheer. That's part of why his death is so tragic.
I find his presence at the barricade a curious question. Why does he join the rebels? Does he realize what he's signing up for? When does he realize it?
For starters, although he, like most people living with poverty, is unhappy with the regime, he doesn't go fighting for the idealistic visions of the future. Of the Amis, he most resembles Bahorel rather than Enjolras or Combeferre or any of the others - he seems to bounce around, wreck havoc, and spread cheer for those who are open minded enough to see the humour. There's a Tom Sawyer hiding in every boy, but in him especially. I think that initially, it was more the Tom Sawyerness or boyishness than ideals that lead him to join. Saying that, though, his imagination probably painted pictures of a fully fledged revolution that will wipe away the dirt from the face of the earth in several days, if not hours. What Tom Sawyer would deny the chance to take this glory?
However, it becomes clear before long that there will be no glorious revolution, and that the rebels are condemning themselves to death. The others might be choosing to die for a vision - if not a revolution, then at least an inspiration to future generations. Gavroche doesn't seem to flow in that stream of thought, though. It's almost like he doesn't realize that he's going to die. Maybe he believes in his luck, or maybe his happy-go-luckiness doesn't permit the very possibility to cross his mind. But he's not thick; he's seen what has happened to some and what will happen to the rest, and he ought to understand that he won't make it out alive. But he just takes it all in stride, even shrugs it off as an unimportant detail. How? Why? Where did he get this attitude? Why is he still in the barricade when with his luck he would have probably been able to escape even after dawn?
I think that part of it lies in some secret hidden philosophy of urchin lifestyle. It makes you realize that life is short, so be prepared for it to end any second. Whatever happens, you won't live too long anyways. And this, in part, may even be the source of Gavroche's cheer. I think he's accepted an early death much earlier than any other character in the book, which leaves him free to live utterly cheerfully and unregretfully and sing under the aim of the guards.
And speaking of the aim of the guards, this is another curious detail. Yes, guns back then were not what they are today, and yes, Gavroche was twisting and dancing around, but doesn't anyone else find it surprising that so many people were shooting and none of them managed to get a hit? None, until the same person hit Gavroche twice? I have a theory about this - an unsaid thing that Hugo probably did not intend, but that I want to see there nonetheless. Gavroche was completely open, he was singing and making faces at bullets. He's at once younger than a boy and older than a man. He was brave and ridiculous; the guards were even laughing about him. Think back to the two scenes when Enjolras is compelled to shoot two specific men - and to do so out of duty and necessity. Somehow, I doubt very much that the soldiers were very eager to kill Gavroche. For most, it probably happened on a subconscious level; for some, it may have been partly intentional; but the majority of them didn't seem to be aiming very accurately. I don't think they would have refused to shoot - they are
soldiers, and Gavroche is
a rebel, but I also don't think most of them would have wanted to be the one to shoot this sparrow down. I don't think they tried very hard to get him.
Last thing I want to point out is that Gavroche, as a character, is more symbolic to the revolution than his active role in it might portray at first sight. If you have ever read Charles de Coster's Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel
, you would remember that the personages of the story were likened to Flanders' qualities - Flanders' soul, Flanders' love, Flanders' belly, etc. (And if you haven't read it, give it a go - you might learn to hate the Spanish Inquisition almost as much as the French government
). The point is, Gavroche is the spirit of the rebellion. Hugo goes on about Enjolras being the strategy and Combeferre being the philosophy. Well I feel like Combeferre is perfect as philosophy, and Enjolras is more than strategy - he is the embodiment of sacrifice for a cause and self-sacrifice for duty. And I think Gavroche fits perfectly in with them - the soul and spirit of the rebellion, not underestimating the grave but ever cheerful, ever brave and ever young.
Out of all the adaptations, so far I have only seen the 2012 musical/movie. Gavroche's death was certainly one of its best moments. However, having now read the book and reflecting back on it, there is one thing that profoundly bothers me, and it is that one of the Amis sends
Gavroche to get the cartridges. That decision makes me want to facepalm because of its unrealistic and wasteful nature, but aside from that it takes the initiative away from Gavroche and in many ways lessens his daring, cheek, belief in his luck, and willingness to take one for his comrades.So what are your thoughts on Gavroche? How do you see his character, both on the barricade and in general? Why do you think he chose to die at the barricade? Is there an adaptation or translation that you think emphasizes different motivations or different qualities? What was the effect of Gavroche on other fighters? On the novel?
This list of questions is by no means exclusive. It's just there as a starting point for discussion. Feel free to add your own thoughts about the little gamin.
C'est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes. ~Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry