Fantine’s story is very heartbreaking and tragic.
We first meet her during “At the End of the Day”. She is working at Valjean’s factory and the other factory workers have grown suspicious of her. At one point in the song, a factory woman sees her with this letter and steals it from her. The letter says that her daughter, Cosette, is seriously ill and needs money as soon as possible. But the heartbreaking part is that the letter is a hoax sent by the Thenardiers in order to scam her out of money. When Fantine was younger, she was quite naive and she had an affair with this man named Tholymés and they have a child together, but he completely abandons her and Cosette is about two or three at the time. Knowing that it would be hard to get a job with an illegitimate child, she left Cosette in the hands of the Thenardiers.
Fantine has no clue that the Thenardiers are horribly abusing her daughter. Fantine and this factory woman get into a fight and Valjean arrives. Valjean asks the foreman to break it up. The factory workers confess that Fantine has a child and demands that she be fired. She ends up getting fired and Fantine becomes even more desperate. Her dreams are broken and she is devastated. She knows she somehow has to still provide for her child and make sure she is paid for and she really believes that her daughter is actually dying, but that is not even true. After being fired, Fantine blames Monsieur Madeline (AKA Valjean) for her being fired and she starts to have a dislike towards him, but Valjean has no idea that she was just fired due to having an illegitimate child.
At the docks, Fantine ends up selling her locket, her hair, and becomes a prostitute in order to provide for her daughter. At this time in France, women were not given many opportunities in the job world and it was dangerous to be known you have an illegitimate child. Right after Fantine becomes a prostitute, an abusive customer harasses her and in self-defense, she attacks the man. Javert is there at the scene and plans to arrest her because she attacked the man and only sees her as this prostitute. Fantine even tells him that she has a child, but even after that fact, Javert still shows her no mercy. Valjean sees the whole scene take place and intervenes to prevent Fantine from being arrested.
Fantine confesses to Valjean that she was fired from his factory. Out of mercy, Valjean has Fantine taken to the hospital because she has fallen seriously ill. Valjean feels guilty that Fantine was fired from his factory and wants to make up for it. On Fantine’s deathbed, she is still worried about her child and still cares. She doesn’t know what will happen to her child once she dies. Valjean agrees to Fantine that he will raise Cosette as his own and this decision allows Fantine to die in peace and comfort.
Fantine’s downfall wasn’t even her fault. Her downfall was due to society. She was abandoned by her lover and that was where her downfall actually begins. At the factory, it was the factory worker that demand she be fired. Fantine’s story shows how mistreated women were in nineteenth century France. Everything Fantine does is done out of love for her child and she is truly a mother.
As a matter of fact, Fantine was based off of reality. Victor Hugo saw a prostitute being harassed and that prostitute was about to be arrested, but Hugo intervened and prevented the arrest. That is when Hugo began to wonder what if this prostitute had a child and that was where the character of Fantine was inspired from.
Next analysis is for Cosette