Years pass. Jean Valjean is no longer Jean Valjean. He’s a wealthy factory owner and the mayor of a town. So changed is he from the convict he was that he isn’t suspected, not even by his old jail guard Javert—who’s been hunting Valjean since Valjean broke his parole.
Breaking parole. Taking on a new identity. It was the only way that Valjean could see to escape the trail of ex-convictism that followed him. At the top of his game, he must have known he wouldn’t be able to hide forever. However, he’s very busy being his new self that he can’t see certain things that happen around him. One is a sleazy factory supervisor. The other is a young woman in desperate need of help.
One of the workers at the factory that Valjean owns is a woman named Fantine. Like Valjean, she seeks to hide her past life. Unlike Valjean, she receives reminders of her past through the mail in the form of letters asking for money to support the daughter she had born out of wedlock.
Fantine epitomizes the consternation of an out of wedlock pregnancy. She has to hide her daughter so she can hide the disgrace of an illegitimate birth. At the same time, she loves her daughter and refuses to abandon her, even though she experienced abandonment by the father of her child.
While Fantine is slaving away in the factory in order to provide for her daughter, she is also being swindled. The Thénardiers are a family of master con artists and know that Fantine has no place to leave Cosette and couldn’t possibly get work if she is towing around a bastard child. They play angels of mercy and convince Fantine to leave Cosette with them, provided she sends money to pay the child’s expenses. This gives the Thénardiers a perfect opportunity to invent fake illnesses for Cosette in order to squeeze every penny possible from Fantine. In return they mistreat Cosette, but Fantine has no way of knowing any of this.
That’s where we find Fantine on one fateful day in Valjean’s factory.
Fantine isn’t a prostitute, but she doesn’t exactly have the purest background. On top of that, she’s beautiful. The combination of the two make her an easy target for a factory foreman looking to get laid.
She refuses his advances. Having been jaded before and having only one purpose—providing for her child—sleeping with the boss is the last thing on her mind.
This refusal makes the foreman angry. He can’t make a big deal about it because the Mayor (alias of Valjean) owns the factory and maintains a certain reputation. Still, he’s upset at the refusal and takes out his anger on the other factory workers, causing the workers to blame Fantine for their supervisor’s foul mood.
It’s a rough spot to be for Fantine. It’s also a terrible time to receive yet another letter from the Thénardiers asking for more money. When she receives the letter, it falls into the wrong hands and catches the attention of the wounded foreman. With proof that Fantine has an illegitimate child, the foreman has everything he needs to exact his revenge.
Fantine knows she’s going to get the sack. Her last resort is to turn to Valjean for help. Naively, Valjean chooses to put his trust in the corrupt foreman and doesn’t listen to Fantine.
In the end, Fantine is on the street with no job and a letter burning in her hand, reminding her that if she doesn’t get money—and get money soon—her daughter is going to die.