~There will be major spoilers throughout this post~
Two of my favorite musicals are OLIVER! and LES MISÉRABLES. It’s kind of funny because these two musicals entered into my life at two completely different times in my life. The first time that I saw OLIVER! was when I was about 6 – 7 years old and it was my first musical that wasn’t Disney. And I fell in love with it immediately. The dance choreography, the singing, and the characters—everything—was perfect about it. Granted, I didn’t understand the darker side to it until more recently but I loved it so much. And then, on the other side of the spectrum, there’s LES MIZ. I won’t say that I fell in love with LES MIZ the first time I saw it because, to be honest, I didn’t. I was shocked by it more than anything. Of course, I did fall in love with the musical eventually as it is one of my favorites today.
What’s this post about? Well… it’s about two characters. One from OLIVER! and one from LES MISÉRABLES. Both are characters that I absolutely adore. And both have quite a bit in common. So today, I’m making every possible connection that I can between these two. Ready? Set? Go!
Nancy’s family is kind of… hard to explain. From what we can tell, she was orphaned at a young age and taken in by Fagin and taught to be a thief alongside many other children (including Bill Sikes). For many years, Nancy depended on Fagin’s caring for her and the other children to get by and, at the time of the story, still does (to a certain extent). At the time of the story, Nancy is in love with Bill (Sikes) and, as far as we can tell, he loves her. (When she asks if he loves her, he says: “Well, I live with you don’t I?”) This relationship is abusive and if she doesn’t do precisely as Bill and Fagin tell her to, Bill will beat her and even threaten to kill her.
We know a lot more about Éponine’s family life merely because it’s a bigger part of the musical than Nancy’s family life is to OLIVER!. Éponine is also raised and taught to be a thief (sometime after Cosette gets taken away by Valjean) and relies on this to stay alive. Éponine’s family life is also abusive (though, perhaps, not to the extent of Nancy). Her father threatens to beat her at the Attack on Rue Plumet and it is suggested (in the book) that in general, he is abusive to her.
But where do the differences lie? Well… I’d say that the biggest difference in family life here is that Fagin is somewhat kind (though in a weird way; it’s really hard to explain) and Monsieur Thenardier is anything but benevolent. We’ll get to the whole Bill Sikes thing later though clearly that is quite a difference.
Éponine is one of the greatest examples of unrequited love that I can think of. Much of her story comes down to this unrequited love plot that she deals with. Éponine is in love with Marius Pontmercy, a man who is in love with Cosette. In the musical, Éponine and Marius are friends; in the book, they are much more acquaintances than anything else in my personal opinion. Éponine knows that Marius will never love her because he’s in love with Cosette but that doesn’t stop her from loving him and helping and protecting him.
Nancy loves Bill. Bill might love Nancy. But in the end, he kills her. Is that love? Doesn’t sound like it. Personally, I see Nancy as being in love with Bill while Bill doesn’t really love her but just toys around with her feelings and uses her for his own gain. After all, Nancy asks Bill if he loves her and he says, in an annoyed voice: “Well, I live with you, don’t I?” Nancy only sees Bill’s cruelty to her and to others (as well as his abusive behavior) as him needing her and she refuses to leave him. The line “I won’t betray his trust though people say I must. I’ve got to stay true just as long as he needs me” so wonderfully sums up Nancy’s character.
So, Éponine loves Marius. Nancy loves Bill. Marius doesn’t love Éponine, nor does he know that she loves him until her death. Bill knows that Nancy loves him and he never actually answers her when she asks him about whether or not he loves her. And the fact that she even has to ask this sets me on the path to thinking that Bill does not love Nancy but rather keeps her around and lets her think that he does love her. Both Nancy and Éponine are determined to stick by the person they love’s side. In “As Long as He Needs Me”, Nancy says “I won’t betray his trust though people say I must. I’ve got to stay true just as long as he needs me” and, in the German version of “On My Own” (“Nur Für Mich” [which translates to “Only for Me”]), Éponine says “Ja, ich weiß, er hat mich übersehen, ganz egal, ich muss zu ihm stehen”, which translates to “Yeah, I know he overlooked me, no matter, I have to stay with him”, which, to me, sounds very much like Nancy’s line in “As Long as He Needs Me”. I think that their attitude towards the person they love is very similar though the situations are quite different. While Bill Sikes abuses (and eventually kills Nancy), Marius never physically hurts Éponine and doesn’t even know that she loves him.
THE ACTIONS THEY TAKE
Let’s talk about the differences here first, shall we? There are plenty of similarities but I feel like I should start with the differences. Éponine does almost everything that she does for Marius. She helps Marius find Cosette and finally, sacrifices her life for Marius. Nancy does a lot of what she does for Oliver, but also for Bill. She wants to help both Oliver and Bill but the problem here is that these two things often contradict. Nancy knows that what Bill wants her to do in regard to Oliver is wrong so she wants to save him and thus, in her mind save Bill. More on that later. So, while Éponine dies saving Marius’s life, Nancy dies saving Oliver’s life.
Like I said before, both Éponine and Nancy act on the behalf of love. For Éponine, that’s Marius. For Nancy, that’s both Bill and Oliver.
Nancy is kind to Oliver from the moment that she first meets him and when he gets taken in by Mr. Brownlow after the misunderstanding of the stolen wallet is settled in court, she is quick to advocate for Oliver and try to persuade Fagin and Bill to leave him alone because he could have a good life untainted by crime unlike the life that she has known. Bill, however, paranoid that Oliver will talk about Fagin and the other pick-pockets, refuses to let Nancy’s counsel guide him and when Nancy refuses to cooperate with Sikes’s plan to get Oliver back, Nancy is beaten badly by Sikes. Throughout all of this, Fagin pleads with Sikes to leave her alone and not to hurt her, but he does so anyways. Nancy reluctantly finds Oliver walking along the streets of London and she distracts him so that Bill can kidnap him. When Oliver defies Sikes, Nancy protects him. Sikes becomes increasingly violent from here, even leading Fagin to realize his violent nature after he threatens to kill him. Nancy, horrified for Oliver’s life, goes to find Mr. Brownlow and confesses her part in Oliver’s kidnapping (but refuses to site Bill’s and Fagin’s for their safety and for her own). She promises to sneak Oliver away from the hideout to the bridge where Mr. Brownlow can take him away and Oliver can be safe. Afterwards, Nancy goes to the tavern where she works. Soon afterwards, Sikes, Fagin, and Oliver arrive (with Sikes’s dog, Bullseye) and Nancy starts up a lively drinking song, hoping to distract Bill so that she can sneak Oliver to the London Bridge where she promised to bring him to Mr. Brownlow at midnight. Bullseye alerts Sikes and Sikes begins to hunt down Oliver and Nancy. Nancy gets Oliver to the bridge. We’ll talk about what happens next shortly.
As we can see, Nancy does everything that she does for either Bill or Oliver (or at times both).
Éponine finds Cosette for Marius. She screams to alert Cosette, Marius, and Valjean that Thenardier and the Patron Minette have arrived. It’s unclear as to whether she does it because it’s right or for Marius (though to me it seems more likely that the answer would be found in the latter). Éponine delivers letters to Cosette for Marius.
So both Éponine and Nancy do what they do for the sakes of those that they love. …But will they both die for the people they love?
Both Nancy and Éponine die in their musicals. Éponine by a bullet wound at the barricades. Nancy by a severe beating from Bill.
Éponine goes back to the barricades disguised as a boy so that Marius will not recognize her. During the initial attack on the barricade, Marius is nearly shot but Éponine jumps in front of the bullet. The bullet kills her after she tells Marius that she loves him in “A Little Fall of Rain”.
Nancy takes Oliver to the London Bridge to hand him over to Mr. Brownlow so that he can lead a good life, safe from Bill. Bill, however, catches up to Nancy and Oliver and when Nancy tries to protect, Oliver, Bill beats her to death.
So, it’s clear that both Nancy and Éponine die trying to protect someone that they care about and their deaths are manifestations of that love. But the ways in which they die are clearly very different. Nancy dies at the hand of a person that she loves and Éponine dies in the arms of the person that she loves, telling him with her dying breaths that she loves him right after she saved his life. Nancy dies a much more brutal, violent death while Éponine dies a bittersweet death.
THE SONGS THAT THEY SING
I’d say that, in comparison to Nancy, Éponine doesn’t get as many opportunities to sing (at least, not on her own). Éponine sings in “In My Life”, “A Heart Full of Love”, “One Day More”, “On My Own”, and “A Little Fall of Rain”. Nancy sings in “It’s a Fine Life”, “I’d Do Anything”, “Fine Life (Reprise)”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, and “Oom-Pah-Pah”. Are the messages of some of these songs similar? Well, let’s see!
I would say that “In My Life” and “It’s a Fine Life” have a similar sort of point. While, by the looks of it (and the sound of it), “It’s a Fine Life” seems to be a happy song, at the end, you realize that Nancy’s just building up a façade of a fine life to forget about all of the bad things that happen to her and all of the things that she wishes for that she will never have. In “In My Life”, we see Éponine pining over the fact that Marius will never see her in the way that she sees him. Both Éponine and Nancy are pining over things that they wish for but cannot have and, in that way, I’d say that their messages are fairly similar (though the point is different).
“Oom-Pah-Pah” and “The Attack on Rue Plumet” have something in common that I kind of just thought of. “Oom-Pah-Pah” is a song that Nancy starts up to distract Bill Sikes so that she can smuggle Oliver out of the tavern to get him to the London Bridge. During “The Attack on Rue Plumet”, Éponine tries to get her father and Patron Minette to leave Valjean and Cosette alone.
Perhaps the strongest connection between songs for these two characters would be between “As Long as He Needs Me” and “On My Own”. In both songs, they’re dealing with unrequited love (though of course different situations). “On My Own” is much more of one that knows that the person she loves will never love her and cannot love her. “As Long as He Needs Me” is, on the other hand, the song of one who wants to believe that the person she loves returns her affections and of one who believes that as much as it seems that this person is bad for her, that this person needs her. But there is one key thing about these two songs that is so very similar: that they both are adamant to stay by the person that they love. In “As Long as He Needs Me”: “I won’t betray his trust though people say I must. I’ve got to stay true just as long as he needs me.” And then, in the German translation of “On My Own”, “Nur Für Mich”: “Ja, ich weiß, er hat mich übersehen, ganz egal, ich muss zu ihm stehen” which translates to “Yeah, I know he overlooked me, no matter, I have to stay with him.”
“A Heart Full of Love”, “One Day More”, “A Little Fall of Rain”, and “It’s a Fine Life (Reprise)” don’t really correlate with any of the other songs in my opinion.
So, after that analysis / compare and contrast, I think that it’s pretty clear that Nancy and Éponine are pretty similar characters though of course, they are not without their differences, of course. What do you think about Bill Sikes? Do you think that he loved Nancy or do you think that he just kind of kept her around? And what do you think about Éponine’s actions during the attack on Rue Plumet? Do you think that she did it as a moral sort of thing or for Marius’s sake? And finally, what do you think of this comparison? Do you think that Nancy and Éponine are similar or do you think that the connection is kind of weak?