Most compelling scene: Questions regarding a man called Le Cabuc

Les Misérables discusses revolution a great deal as a way to bring about social change. This chapter, set in the early hours of the June 5th rebellion, is the wake-up call when that abstract idea becomes violent reality. The murder committed by Le Cabuc and his dramatic execution by rebel leader Enjolras is the moment when the action picks up as the plot rushes towards its climactic scenes at the fall of the barricades.

After reading this chapter, it is hard to imagine Enjolras in a setting without an imminent insurrection to lead. He was introduced as “a charming young man who was capable of being a terror” (Hugo 556), and this scene shows everything that makes him so charming and terrifying in rapid succession. Between Enjolras effortlessly compelling Le Cabuc to kneel – and Hugo takes this moment of all moments to continue the classical hero imagery that surrounds Enjolras, contrasting his feminine looks and slender build with le Cabuc’s bulk, giving the scene a supernatural feel – to the emotionless efficiency with which he shoots Le Cabuc, the reader isn’t sure whether to cheer or cringe or just reel in shock when the shot rings out.

Enjolras is more a symbol for revolution than a character in his own right, but this scene shows him at his most human, as he reflects on what he has done. His speech may come off as overly optimistic to modern readers, but there is an element of pathos in it: in insisting that the future must be built on love with no room for violence or murderers, Enjolras casts himself out of the very world he is fighting for. His humanity is forfeit for the sake of the revolution, but there is something awesome (in the original sense) about it. Whether it’s because of the chapter’s riveting imagery, or the inspiring speech, or the energy of the event itself, I can’t help but want to stand by in agreement as Combeferre cries, “We will share your fate.”