In Les Misérables while Cosette and Valjean are talking/singing, the grown up Cosette wants to know about Valjean's past. And why they are constantly on the run. She makes a movement to lift his cuff and he quickly pulls away - why does he do this?

ETA: I believe this is around the song "Attack on Rue Plumet"

  • Are you talking about a real "cuff" in a specific scene or about a metaphorical one and the overall reluctance of Valjean to talk about his past?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 11:05
  • Sorry, to clarify the cuff of his shirt
    – Liath
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 11:56

1 Answer 1


He just doesn't want her to know about his past as a criminal and prisoner. While that may not be much of a problem for Cosette, this isn't the experience Valjean has made in the past. I'd say he is ashamed about his criminal past and just doesn't want her to know, even if he was convicted for such ridiculously small a crime and has done more than enough good to wash away his sins. His past still bothers and haunts him and he has made the experience (and is constantly told by society, and not the least by Javert) that a man cannot change himself or his past. So this is a dark stain on his past that, while it won't ever vanish, he at least doesn't want Cosette to know and to cloud her believes in him (even if that wasn't likely to happen).

Another factor may be that he doesn't want her to know the whole story, including that he is (or at least feels) responsible for Fantine's death, which is something he's probably never forgiven himself, even if he's done all the best for Cosette.

EDIT: If you're actually asking about a real "cuff" she wants to lift in a specific scene (which I don't remember too well), then this can still be seen in light of the above explanations. He was most likely hiding his prisoner "tattoo" that he didn't want her to see for the above mentioned reasons. Why she made the movement to lift it is another question, though. Maybe she was curious as she felt he was hiding something or maybe she even drew her own conclusions and was looking for a prisoner "tattoo" on purpose.

  • Thanks, yes it was a physical cuff on his shirt. I wondered if he had a tattoo or a scar?
    – Liath
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 11:59
  • @Liath Meh, in the end I think his prisoner tattoo was on his breast and the whole answer seems quite obsolete at all.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 12:11
  • I had a look for the clip but there aren't enough on Youtube yet... I'll keep looking
    – Liath
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 9:19

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