Bisop Myriel: The bishop of the Digne province who prevents his arrest and redeems Jean Valjean’s soul by giving him two silver candlesticks. The bishop lives simply, performs countless acts of charity and trusts everything to Providence. He dies of natural causes while Jean Valjean is mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer.
Jean Valjean (a.k.a. Father Madeleine, Monsieur Leblanc, Ultimus Fauchelevent): The protagonist of the story, a man of immense strength and boundless virtue. He is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family and, after several escape attempts, serves nineteen years in the galleys. He comes out a hardened criminal but is redeemed by the bishop. As Father Madeleine, he becomes mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer where he tries to save Fantine. He is eventually arrested but escapes and rescues Cosette from the Thenardiers. Inspector Javert finds him in Paris, however, and Jean Valjean and Cosette take refuge in a convent where he assumes the identity of Ultimus Fauchelevent. When Marius first sees Cosette he gives him the nickname Monsieur Leblanc because of his white hair. Later Jean Valjean goes to the barricade and rescues Marius in order to ensure Cosette’s happiness. His poignant death marks the end of the story.
Fantine: A girl from the village of Montreuil-sur-mer who goes to Paris to find work. There she falls in love with a dandy who leaves her suddenly and with child. She returns to her home village to find work and on the way entrusts her child, whom she calls Cosette, to a seemingly kind couple called the Thenardiers. The Thenardiers demand increasingly large sums of money to board the child and Fantine, who loses her job in the factory, must sell her hair and teeth to provide for her daughter. Eventually she becomes a prostitute and is arrested but is saved by Father Madeleine. She dies of illness before he can reunite her with Cosette.
Cosette: Fantine’s orphaned daughter who suffers under the Thenardiers but is rescued by Jean Valjean who adores her. She grows up in a convent but after many years there Jean Valjean removes her so that she can experience the outside world. By her fifteenth year she has become very pretty and, much to Jean Valjean’s alarm, her looks attract the eye of Marius with whom she falls in love. They begin secretly meeting in her garden and after Jean Valjean saves Marius from the barricade they are wed.
Monsieur Thenadier (a.k.a. Jondrette): A man of wiry build, an unscrupulous schemer who inadvertently saves Baron Pontmercy’s life while picking the fallen soldier’s pockets on the field of Waterloo. He and his wife keep an inn where they abuse Cosette. Eventually the inn fails and they relocate to Paris where they live in the room next to Marius in abject poverty under the family pseudonym of Jondrette. Monsieur Thenardier devises a plot to extort money from Jean Valjean that lands him in prison. He escapes, however, and later meets Jean Valjean in the sewer carrying the wounded Marius. With his surviving daughter, Azelma, he travels to America and becomes a slave trader.
Madame Thenardier (a.k.a. The Thenardiess): A large ugly woman who is the terror of young Cosette’s life. She bears five children but only cares for her two daughters Eponine and Azelma. Later she dies in prison.
Inspector Javert: A policeman who bears an uncanny resemblance to a wolf. Javert obeys the letter of the law and gives no mercy to offenders. In the story he serves as Jean Valjean’s nemesis. First as an inspector in Montreuil-sur-mer he suspects Father Madeleine of being a former convict and eventually arrests him. Later as an inspector in Paris he relentlessly pursues Valjean until the latter spares his life and creates a moral dilemma for Javert who ends his own life by jumping into the river.
Baron Pontmercy: Marius’ estranged father who fought in the Battle of Waterloo where he was made a baron. He bears a large scar on his cheek from a saber wound and has a passion for horticulture. He married the youngest daughter of Monsieur Gillenormand but because of his ties to Napoleon was disowned by the old royalist. When his wife died he surrendered the child (Marius) to his grandfather in order to keep the boy in the old man’s will. Marius travels to his deathbed but arrives too late.
Marius: A romantic young man who is raised by his royalist grandfather (Monsieur Gillenormand) but rejects his upbringing when he discovers that his father (Baron Pontmercy) truly loved him. He leaves his grandfather’s house to live in relative poverty. He completes law school and makes friends with a group of young revolutionaries but does not vigorously pursue a career or subscribe to the political rhetoric of his peers. Instead, he falls deeply in love with Cosette. He goes to fight at the barricades when he believes he will never see her again. He is rescued by Jean Valjean and later marries Cosette.
Father Mabeuf: The brother of Baron Pontmercy’s cure who befriends Marius after his father’s death and tells him about the Baron. As the story progresses Father Mabeuf, an old man with a passion for books and flowers, sinks into crushing poverty. A bit deranged he joins the revolutionaries at the barricade and becomes a martyr when he dies trying to raise their flag.
Monsieur Gillenormand: Marius’ aged royalist grandfather whose mannerisms are of the 18th century. He disowns Marius when the latter insists on following the ideology of his father but over time softens to his grandson. Nevertheless, he refuses to allow Marius to marry Cosette and offends the young man by suggesting he simply have an affair with the girl. When Marius returns wounded from the barricades Monsieur Gillenormand reveals his love for his grandson and nurses him back to health. He consents to the marriage and is happy.
Gavroche: The oldest son of the Thenardiers; he is left to live in the streets of Paris and becomes a gamin, one of the willful homeless boys who celebrate their poverty and mock all forms of authority. He is a great singer and dies singing while gathering bullets for the defenders of the barricade.
Eponine: The eldest daughter of the Thenardiers who torments Cosette as a child. Later in the story she develops a crush on Marius but helps him to find Cosette. She arranges for him to be at the barricades and dies stopping a bullet meant for him.