The boy Antoine in The 400 Blows is essentially abandoned by parents who are almost children themselves, a fun-loving, petulant stepfather and a mother long weary of motherhood. This abandonment is not deliberate or even entirely conscious, but it allows him to enter a life of careless, minor crime--more important, a miniature underworld without adults as an anti-Romantic Huck Finn whose Mississippi is the vicissitudes of city life without a direction home. And while Huck had the force of the river, and of Jim's moral compass, to mark his way, Antoine flees indiscriminately, wandering through a nervous, gray, and ultimately unconcerned Paris, until he too arrives at water's edge; for him, though, it is merely an unresolved shape in the distance, his childhood slipping beneath the surface.
Antoine seems "bad" in an unattractive way--unlike the earlier pranksters, "little rascals" who formed "our gang" and enjoyed noisy vacations from parents and school. Antoine will not or can not recognize he is just fooling around; for him, his crimes and the resultant reform school lie on him like his skin. And nothing comes of it but an almost absurdist journey-quest away from nothing in particular and toward the same. He is like that Anglo-Saxon Wanderer who begins "sorry-hearted," and "must for a long time row along the waterways, the ice-cold sea, tread the paths of exile. Events always go as they must!" And Antoine also stands on the beach, his gaze, anxious yet blank, boring into the end of his childhood. Barely a teenager, his foot had slid, and the abyss into which he called did not call back.