Yes, I know he overlooked me,
No matter, I have to stand beside him.
The lyrics above are the English translation of some of the lyrics from the German version of “On My Own”. Ever since I did my translation of “Nur Für Mich” (“Just For Me”), this line has been nagging at my brain and so I thought that I would do a little bit of analysis. My analysis will be based off of the musical primarily though I might bring in some details from the book. If you have not seen or read Les Miz, I would not recommend that you read this post.
Éponine has been one of my absolute favorite characters from Les Misérables for as long as I can remember. She’s immensely interesting and strong. I thought that I would do a quick analysis of her character today and more specifically on her love for Marius Pontmercy.
One of the key points of Éponine’s story is her unrequited love for Marius Pontmercy. She loves him but he loves Cosette and Éponine helps him to meet with Cosette and acts as his messenger from time-to-time. Marius’s love for Cosette is what a lot of fans of Les Misérables have grown to hate him for (among other things). But if he had fallen in love with Éponine, Les Miz would lose a lot of its charm and even Éponine would lose a lot of her charm.
Marius’s only crime in this regard is that he fell in love with someone that a lot of fans did not want him to end up with. His crime is love. Much like Raoul de Chagny from The Phantom of the Opera, his only crime is that he fell in love. In Marius’s case, it’s that he fell in love with the “wrong” person whereas with Raoul, it’s that he fell in love in the first place. In my opinion, both of these characters get hate for well… the wrong reasons. I’ll admit that Marius isn’t one of my top five favorite characters in Les Miz, but I don’t hate him because he fell in love with Cosette. On the contrary, I just don’t think that he’s as interesting as the other characters. But this is supposed to be about Éponine. I just had to get that off of my chest.
We first encounter Éponine at the Thenardier’s inn in Act I though it has been brought to my attention that this is not abundantly clear. And I can kind of see why that might be. But I’ll continue on. If it is not clear that Éponine makes her first appearance in the inn, it is clear that she makes her appearance during “Paris/Look Down” towards the end of Act I when she is introduced properly to the audience by Gavroche. In the musical, Éponine is friends with Marius though in the book Marius and Éponine have either not met or have just barely met at this point. Also, I might make the point that in the book, their relationship is not quite one of friendship in my opinion. At any rate, we are introduced to Éponine and we quickly get an idea as to what her life is like.
Éponine is not lavishly dressed like some of the other characters but is rather dressed in a tattered dress and a dirty jacket. While she is speaking to Marius, we understand that she has an association with her father’s gang and even helps them (Gavroche also says this during “Paris/Look Down”). Shortly after her father recognizes Jean Valjean, Javert makes an appearance and Éponine warns everyone.
Marius has just met Cosette at this point. And after Jean Valjean and Cosette hurry away whilst the Thenardiers are being spoken to by Javert, Éponine remembers how different her life was when she had known Cosette years ago. After this brief reflection, Marius asks Éponine to find Cosette for him, offering her money. Éponine refuses the money and goes to find Cosette nonethless.
Upon finding Cosette, Éponine takes Marius to her and Éponine watches as they speak to each other and declare their love for one another. Whilst this is happening, her father’s gang arrives with the intention of robbing the house. Éponine threatens to scream in order to warn Jean Valjean and Cosette of what is about to happen and she does so. As to why she does this is a matter of debate. In my opinion, she did it because she knew that it was what Marius would have wanted her to do and Marius would have a reason to be grateful to her for it. Under any normal circumstances, it can be assumed that Éponine would have been helping in the robbery. I do not think that Éponine did it for Cosette nor that she did it because she had a sudden change of heart. I think that it is clear that she did it for Marius and for herself so that Marius would not despise or even blame her for what happened. I’m curious to see what others think about this.
In the musical, Marius quickly thanks Éponine and they hurry away from the scene, leaving Cosette and Jean Valjean to flee because Valjean believes that Javert has found him.
From this point, in the musical, we spring into one of my personal favorite musical theatre songs of all time: “One Day More” in which all of the characters are thinking about what comes next. For Marius and Cosette it’s how they will ever see each other again or if they will see each other again at all. Éponine pines over her love for Marius and how he does not return her affections and how she will have to spend “one more day all on her own”. On stage, it almost appears that Marius consults Éponine for her opinion on whether or not he should join Les Amis de l’ABC at the Barricade. After which he does decide to stand with Enjolras and the others. In the movie version, Éponine at this point disguises herself as a man and joins him at the barricade. While in the musical it can be thought that Éponine just wanted to be with Marius even at the barricade or even to help out, in the book, it is made abundantly clear that Éponine wanted to die with Marius.
At any rate, on stage, Éponine shows up at the barricade and Marius asks her to help him by taking a letter to Cosette for him. Éponine does this and, on stage, this is where “On My Own” comes into play (in the movie “On My Own” is sung after the attack on Rue Plumet”). I find it interesting that in the German version, the quote at the beginning of the post is inserted. For good measure I’ll also put it in again… “Yes, I know he overlooked me, No matter, I have to stand beside him”. To me, this portrays the character of Éponine perfectly. Marius completely overlooks Éponine and her feelings for him multiple times throughout both the musical and the book. Éponine even knows that she doesn’t have a chance with him because he is in love with Cosette, but instead of trying to shake off these feelings for Marius, she’s determined to stand beside him and stick with him no matter what. I don’t know, to me it just adds a whole new layer to Éponine’s character that was always there but kind of just gets overlooked by a lot of people I feel.
Anyways, Éponine delivers the letter but she meets Valjean at the door instead of Cosette (this will be different in the movie. In the movie, Gavroche is sent to Valjean with a letter and this is after Éponine dies). Valjean tells Éponine that she ought to stay away from the barricade and out of the streets in general because of the “danger in the streets”. Éponine doesn’t heed his warning.
At the barricade, now disguised as a man, Éponine eventually gets shot when the first attack on the barricade occurs. In the book, Jehan is the first to die, but in the musical, the first to fall at the barricade is Éponine. At this point, Marius recognizes Éponine and “A Little Fall of Rain” is sung. I’m a big cry baby when it comes to movies, musicals, books, and even music on its own, and I always fall apart at this scene. In the book as well, this scene emotionally destroyed me. In the translation that I have, Éponine is described as, for that moment, smiling and looking almost heavenly and then, she says “And then, you know M’sieur Marius, I think I as a little in love with you”.
In so many ways, Éponine’s happiest moment of the musical (and in the book) is in this scene, at her death. She’s just happy to be with Marius. In the book, this is where we learn that Éponine wanted to die with Marius. Again, from the translation that I have, she says “I’m so happy we’re all going to die”.
Éponine is a tragic figure who, despite the nature of her unrequited love for a man who constantly overlooked her and paid her no attention, decided to stand by his side, love him, and protect him even unto her death. If that’s not strength, then I don’t know what is. Éponine is not morally driven like Jean Valjean or even Javert who lets the law guide his life. She lets her love for Marius drive her. This is why I think that she screamed to warn Marius, Cosette, and Valjean during the attack on Rue Plumet. Not because she felt morally obligated but because of her love for Marius. There are many interesting characters in Les Misérables, but Éponine has to be one of the most interesting ones to me. Éponine has become a favorite of fans and I think that it’s clear why.
Whew, that was a long post!
What are your thoughts on Éponine? Also, what do you think of Marius? Do you think that all of the hate that he gets is fair? I’d love to know what you think about all of this so please feel free to comment. And one more question: Who is your favorite character from Les Misérables? And, if you can’t pick just one (believe me, I don’t blame you), who is in your top five?