The story begins with Jean Valjean as a humble worker endeavoring to provide for his invalid mother. They live in a squalid home, made more wretched by his inability to provide sufficient food. He goes out in search of work, but is unsuccessful. Finally, in desperation, he steals a loaf of bread regardless of consequences. He hastens home with it, pursued by a crowd, and gives it to his mother. Valjean is arrested for the theft and sentenced to five years at hard labor.