Les Miserables Thesis

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Man Accused of Stealing Silver From Bishop

Last night at approximately 2:30 A.M. police captured a man skulking through the dark with a bag of what they thought was stolen silver candlestick holders. The man was identified as Jean Valjean. However Bishop Myriel, from whom the silver was allegedly stolen, told police that he had given the silver to Valjean as a gift, and so the police had no choice but to let him go.

When interviewed by the press, Bishop Myriel stated that Valjean was a good an honorable man who was about to start a new and better life. "He deserves those silver candlesticks" he said, "because they will guide him from the darkness to the light"

As theft has become a growing problem in France, police were within their rights to detain and question Valjean. However it has become increasingly likely that authorities will harass the poor and accuse them of crimes, simply because of their social and financial status.

Woman Dies, Man Adopts Daughter, Avoids Arrest

A young hardworking mother, Fantine recently passed away with only one person at her side; Jean Valjean. Her dying wish was for Valjean to take care of her daughter, who was currently living with an exploitative couple who treated her poorly and used her as a free source of labor. Valjean agreed to take on this burden even though he had no connection to the child. This selfless action shows how greed does not have to be the only motivation for action, as many of France's elite assume.

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The task was not however as easy as Fantine or Valjean might have hoped. As Valjean was getting ready to retrieve the girl he was accosted by his longtime nemesis Javert, who had come to escort him back to prison. Valjean begged Javert for three days to take care of his business and promised to return to Javert and turn himself in. Javert considered this to be a ridiculous request and forced Valjean, who is known for his superhuman strength, to fight him and escape. Javert has vowed to track down Valjean no matter what, and Valjean has vowed to protect Fantine's daughter at any cost.

Character Bio

TOPIC: Thesis on Les Miserables Assignment

Jean Valjean is one of the most intriguing and complex characters ever created. Despite a lifetime of suffering, including nineteen years serving on a chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread, he manages to maintain a kind and compassionate heart. Yet at the same time his journey is one of continuous self-discovery and personal transformation that tests the fortitude of his compassion and integrity time and time again. Repeatedly, he makes the proper moral and ethical choices even in the face of self-sacrifice. This is the mark of a true tragic hero.

The most notable characteristic that can be seen by Jean Valjean's dialogue is his forthright honesty. This may seem like an odd assertion considering his criminal background, his thievery of silver from a helpful stranger upon his release, and his continual reinvention of his identity to avoid recapture for defying the terms of his release. However he was always willing to put his own neck on the line and speak up for those who could not speak up for themselves. The most obvious example of this is his rescuing of Fantine and her child Cosette.

Because he is in disguise (and is now the mayor of Fantine's town) his assertions go unnoticed until he lifts a cart to save a child, revealing the powerful strength that Javert knew only one man possessed. This is evidence that Jean Valjean is an honest, forthright man who is willing to sacrifice his own well-being to help others in need. His proclivity to speak out on the behalf of others at his own expense further solidifies his role as a tragic hero.

Other characters support this view of Jean Valjean as well. For example, the young boy Gavroche tells Valjean in chapter two, "You have the air of an honest man." Even Javert found himself inadvertently admitting at times that Valjean was an honorable man and not just a wanted criminal. For example, there seems to be a sense of fondness in his remembrance of one of their earlier encounters after prison: "He remembered that Jean Valjean had made him, Javert, burst into laughter, by asking him for a respite of three days, for the purpose of going to fetch that creature's child" (Hugo, 157). He knew that Valjean's intentions were honorable. He still could not concede to such an outlandish request, but in his heart he knew that Valjean would have kept his word.

It has long been acknowledged that actions speak louder than words. Jean Valjean exemplifies this maxim on a multitude of occasions including when another man is about to be imprisoned in his place, and he risks his own freedom to announce the court's mistake. However, nowhere is his generous nature more evident than when he takes in Cosette upon her mother's death and raises her as his own. When he rescues her from the cantankerous couple that has been raising her, his genuineness and loyalty are evident.

Valjean's interactions with the other characters in the book seem to vary based on the context of their relationship. With Fantine and Cosette, and later, Marius (Cosette's husband in later years), Valjean is fatherly and protective. With Javert he is antagonistic and aggressive. With his fellow comrades who fight with him behind the wall, he is authoritative yet humble. But he is always an honorable man and a hero. Valjean once again proves to be an honorable man by refusing to kill the captured Javert.

Yet Valjean did not always know what a great man he was. He had to evolve and learn from his experiences. Jean Valjean experienced several points of transformation throughout the book. The first and perhaps the most life changing transformation occurred when the clergyman from whom he had stolen the silver despite his generous help told the authorities that he had given him the silver as a gift. This changed Valjean's jaded view of mankind and caused him to work hard to become a respectable man.

Another significant transformation took place when Valjean promised Fantine on her deathbed that he would take care of her daughter, Cosette. This was the next step in his evolution from bitter (though always kind-hearted) con on the run to honorable, respected citizen. The final transformation occurred upon his death at the end of the book. This is when we can see that his lifelong journey towards honor had also transformed the people that he loved.

Jean Valjean changes both his name and his appearance several times throughout the book. While in a practical sense this is merely his way of avoiding the authorities, in a metaphorical sense, these changes may signify the personal, internal changes that he is enduring. Jean Valjean exemplifies the tragic hero in that no matter what travails he endured, he always sought to 'do the right thing'. Although he sometimes skirted the law and the truth, he most often did so in the name of justice and freedom. While nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread would make many men bitter beyond repair, Jean Valjean's kind heart managed to eclipse any antipathy to which he was entitled.

Editorial Reporter's Column

Les Miserables' Jean Valjean and the Count of Monte Cristo's Edmond Dantes share a similar background of sinister imprisonment and injustice. Yet while Jean Valjean's goal in life after prison is redemption, Edmond Dantes' primary objective is revenge. Both Edmond and Jean are able to propel themselves to a position of power after their imprisonment by using disguises and false identities, however Jean's intentions and actions are far more pure than Edmond's.

This difference can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Valjean was a man who had nothing when he was imprisoned, while Dantes was a man who had everything, and had it all stripped away from him. Jean never knew what it was like to have all the attributes and privileges that Edmond had, so he was able to channel his anger at his injustices in a more positive direction. Edmond, on the other hand, knew what it was like to go from a 'have' to a 'have not', which made him far more resentful knowing exactly what he had lost.

Critic's Corner

Quote 1: "The dismal, lurid, grotesque imagery with which Hugo consistently depicts Les Miserables drives home a powerful point. Despite all the talk about progress, nothing has changed for a large swath of humanity. Conditions may have improved for some individuals and their offspring. But each new generation of the poor and uneducated faced the same physical, psychic, and moral disintegration."

This quote is entirely accurate in that society continues to cater to the rich and powerful, and oppress and demoralize the poor. Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cossette, Eponine, Gavroche, and virtually every character in Les Miserables would likely be no… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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