Okay, so I just went insane and wrote an essay on Montparnasse. I'm not sure if any of this makes sense because it's absurdly complicated and disjointed, but-
Okay, so it was in reply to this tumblr post:
One of the things I love so much about Montparnasse as a fictional character is the question if he actually is a bad human being.
Do bad acts make you bad?
Can you be considered a bad person if you’re still just a child?
Is it still bad when you have no other choice at all?
And to make your head burn some more: What about about Enjolras?
And I replied with this (brace yourselves, very long post!):
"Personally… I don’t think that Montparnasse is a bad person. At all. I think he’s just a kid who isn’t really sure how to grow up because he never really had anyone to look after him. All he knows is that he’s pretty- he was told that many, many times by many, many people, until he finally decided that if he wanted to get ahead in life then his ticket was his looks. So he became very, very vain. However, he had a problem- no resources. Hereby, he turned to crime. The way I see it, his life played out like a slow escalation- he started off stealing to survive, then he stole to look good, and then when stealing wasn’t enough anymore, for whatever reason- and I don’t doubt that the influence of the rest of Patron-Minette had anything to do with this- he turned to murder.
But why does he murder? Not because he enjoys it. Montparnasse is not evil. He is not sadistic. He doesn’t enjoy hurting people. Maybe he does get a bit of a thrill out of it, but so would anyone, right? Maybe he enjoys having the power over whether this well dressed bourgeois lives or dies, because for all of his life this man and people like him have held power over him. Now the cards are reversed. Still he doesn’t enjoy killing them. But he does enjoy looking nice, and that’s the whole thing- he want to look nice, and that’s why he does it. The people who die are just collateral damage in his quest to look good. Why should he care about them, anyhow? People who never gave half a damn about him, who wouldn’t care if he lived or died- why should he care about them? He isn’t a good person, by any means- he’s greedy and vain and has absolutely no value for human life.
He is not a monster, but he has learned to be cold. The sufferings of others do not bother him any more than the worms crawling in the dirt.
And on to these questions, which are really, REALLY interesting- is he a bad human being?
No. I don’t think he is. I think that’s exactly his problem- he doesn’t think enough, and he’s so quick to write himself off as bad that he doesn’t put in the effort to be good, because why should he? He sees himself as a bad person, and that’s all he’ll ever be. He embraces it, because as long as he has his looks and his clothes he really doesn’t need anything else. But even so he is capable of being selfless- he risks everyone’s asses to save useless Thenardier, treats Gavroche as an equal and even warns Éponine when he has a knife out.
Do his bad acts make him bad? Well, you can decide that for yourself, because I’ve already said enough above on that.
And Montparnasse is still just a child- like I said before, he’s a dumb kid. He’s what- eighteen, nineteen? He’s old enough to know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong- but like I said, he sees himself as being on the bad side. Is he really as bad as he thinks?
Also, he just doesn’t fit in with the other members of Patron-Minette. Three fourths of Patron-Minette are just stereotypical criminals- Guelemer as the big, brutish, stupid one; Babet, the intelligent, cunning one; Claquesous, the mysterious, unknowable one; and… the pretty one… Montparnasse isn’t like the others. Where they’re all stereotypes, Hugo had to actually think on Montparnasse and work on his character. He’s different from his gang, yet he still partakes in the violence all the same.
But then- does he have any other choice? Well, let’s look at his conversation with Valjean.
Valjean is so critical of him, and Valjean, while trying to scare him, INSISTS that his life doesn’t have to be like this. He tells him that he does have a choice. But let’s look at this objectively, because we’re obviously meant to side with Valjean here.
Parnasse has no family to help him out. He has no resources to get any higher job than a laborer- think Feuilly. Montparnasse could be Feuilly.
But we have to ask- how smart is he? Can he read or write? He’s obviously smart enough to get away with murder, but this sort of intelligence probably won’t get him that far. He can either become a laborer or a criminal. Either one sucks and he knows that. As a laborer, he’ll be doing basically the same hard work as in the galleys- the work that tans the skin, callouses the hands, hunches the back. He will hardly be rewarded for his work, and it takes away the only thing he has to be proud of- his looks. He chose to be a criminal to avoid that, because he sees being a criminal as his better option.
So Valjean lectures him, but does he actually help him? Does he give him an out of this life? He lectures him on how Parnasse will end up in prison, but all Montparnasse is thinking while he is hearing this is “what does he know? he doesn’t know me. What options do I have?” Montparnasse has already fell into the pit of criminality, and how can he crawl back out? Who will help him? No wonder he just mutters an insult in reply.
But even so, don’t start hating on Valjean just yet because Valjean DID in fact give him an out. In the purse- six napoleons and some loose change- more than 120 francs. That is, in fact, certainly enough to live on while looking for work. So Valjean did give Montparnasse an option. Valjean practically handed Montparnasse a chance at a new life, yet Montparnasse didn’t take immediate advantage of this and it slipped away. This is like most of what he has likely know his entire life- go for the opportunity fast before it’s taken. What would have happened if Montparnasse had held on to that purse? We don’t know.
Anyhow, so this is my take on these questions and holy hell this is long and confusing. I’m sorry, I suck so badly at this meta thing and this is probably the most disjointed thing you’ve ever read, but…. if anyone can make sense of this, good on you. This is just my take on the character of Montparnasse and don’t even get me started on Enjolras or else we’ll be here all day."
What do you guys think, because eventually I just started pouring out a bunch of Monty thoughts down here. Does any of it make any sense? More importantly, am I horrifically wrong in any of it?