Who to blame? Fantine is like a little girl who is buying a car, where the car company charges high interest, and she ends up paying an enormous sum. In Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, both society and Fantine are to blame for her decline, though society is much more at at fault than she. Firstly, Fantine is partially to blame since she is inexperienced and naive. Likewise, society is at fault because the population dehumanizes people living in poverty. Moreover, society is responsible because the general public is extremely disrespectful towards prostitutes.
Fantine ends up paying for her life due to her decisions and society’s behavior toward her, which is a costly price to pay. Since she is inexperienced and naive, Fantine is partly to blame for her own downfall. Fantine assumes her boyfriend will always be there for her, however, “To him it was an amor; to her a passion. The streets of the Latin Quarter, which swarm with students and grisettes, saw the beginning of this dream. In short, the ecloge took place, and the poor girl had a child” (Hugo 42). Fantine’s boyfriend was not intending to stay with her, but she believed he was, demonstrating her naivete.
Since Fantine is young, she does not have enough experience to make certain decisions. For instance, she decides to entrust the Thenardiers with Cosette because she believes they are a gracious, caring family. As she passes by the Thenardiers’s inn, Fantine stops and pauses to admire the sight of the two children swinging, and ends up speaking with Madame Thenardier. While the women converse, Cosette plays with the Thenardier children. Madame Thenardier exclaims, “How soon they know one another.
See them! One would swear they were three sisters’ These words were the park which the other mother was probably awaiting” (45). Madame Thenardier’s description of the girls and how they appear to be sisters ignites Fantine’s imagination that the Thenardiers are a flawless family, and that she should entrust them with caring for Cosette. However, “… before she [Cosette] was five years old, she became the servant of the house” (48). Fantine’s lack of experience leads to her assume that the Thenardiers are trustworthy people, and are full of integrity, despite barely knowing the family.
She only sees what she desires to see and does not consider the possibility that the Thenardiers could be wicked. Fantine’s naivete and lack of experience is the reason she is responsible for her own decline. Additionally, because society dehumanizes people living in poverty, society is at fault for Fantine’s decline. In France, the majority of people are poor, and Fantine is among them. Fantine is ashamed to go outside at first because she imagines everyone around her is looking and pointing at her which people are. As time passes, she becomes “… ccustomed to disrespect as she had to poverty” (Hugo 62).
The people ignoring and staring at her begin to make her feel worthless. The general public is also responsible for her degradation when Fantine sells part of herself so that she can avoid going into more debt. In order to pay her dues to the Thenardiers for Cosette, Fantine cuts her long, beautiful, hair. When “… she combed her fine hair which flowed down in silky waves, she enjoyed a moment of happiness” (62). She decides to chop her hair off for ten francs to purchase a skirt for Cosette.
Fantine also sells her teeth, despite “How horrible! ” (64) she thinks it is to have her teeth removed, and receives 40 francs for her incisors. When she smiles,“The two teeth were gone” (66) from her mouth. Society degrades Fantine when she is forced to sell her beloved hair and teeth, which brought her happiness, in order to pay the Thenardiers. Thus, society is responsible for her downfall. Furthermore, society is responsible for Fantine’s decline because society disrespects prostitutes. To illustrate, while walking along the street one evening, Fantine encounters Bamatabois.
She is treated harshly when Bamatabois affronts Fantine for her missing teeth and disheveled appearance. The narrator describes how Bamatabois attempts to get Fantine’s attention, “… [Bamatabois] came up behind her with a stealthy step, and stifling his laughter stooped down, seized a handful of snow from the sidewalk, and threw it hastily into her back between her naked shoulders” (Hugo 69). Fantine then scratches Bamatabois’ face with her nails because he insults her, and she is unable to restrain from taking out her anger on him.
As the two are fighting, the commotion created causes a large circle to form, and spectators start, “… laughing, jeering and applauding, around this center of attraction composed of two beings” (69). Bamatabois’ and the bystanders’ behavior is an example of how society is not only treating her cruelly physically, but psychologically. As a result of the same incident, Fantine is treated harshly once more when Javert sentences her to prison for six months for scratching Bamatabois.
Javert sees Fantine as, “a creature who was an outlaw and an outcast” (70-71). Fantine was only defending herself against Bamatabois. However, she is viewed as someone so low in society that she isn’t seen as a citizen, and so Javert does not care about her story. Society would not have been as responsible for Fantine’s downfall if the general public had treated her decently, despite her being a prostitute. Fantine is partly at fault for her own decline because of her naivete and inexperience.
Nevertheless, society is predominantly to blame because society dehumanizes people living in poverty. In addition, society is accountable since the general public treats prostitutes with disrespect. Fantine’s life is changed forever because of the choices she is make and society’s behavior toward her. If all goes well, society will become enlightened, and learn from its mistakes. That way, individuals such as Fantine will be enlightened, and society as a whole will be able to live considerably happier lives in the future.