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Les Miséreables was inspired by and set during the French Revolution. The French Revolution was a time of misery for many as people were suffering and the death rate was incredibly high. The people were not happy with the king because, when he took the throne, he was left with serious financial problems. In trying to solve these problems, he taxed the people heavily. They began to rebel and many people formed secret societies that planned to rise against and take down the monarchy (Cerisola, paragraph 4). Les Miséreables is a fictional work, originally a novel by Victor Hugo, that has been taken to the stage and screen by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg in a musical format. Hugo wrote Les Miséreables as a story of redemption for one specific character. Hugo used the events that took place and the terrible conditions that the people lived in to condemn the unjust class-based structure of France by creating a theme of rebellion by showing how the unfair society turned good people into beggars and criminals- specifically one of the main characters, Jean Valjean, who commits several acts of rebellion. Jean Valjean was offered mercy in the midst of rebelling against the law which sparked a new rebellion in him and inspired him to become a new man. Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children. He was in prison and tried to escape multiple times, keeping him in prison for a total of nineteen years. Once his time was up, he was released on parole. After Valjean was released from prison, he tried to find a place to stay but was turned away because of his parole that named him a dangerous man. He was invited into a church where a priest offered him shelter and food. Valjean stole from the church and was consequently caught by the police. Instead of turning him in, the priest said that he had given Valjean the items he had stolen, sending the police away. Upon being rescued once again by the priest, Valjean said, “One word from him and I’d be back/Beneath the lash, upon the rack/Instead he offers me my freedom/I feel my shame inside me like a knife/ He told me that I have a soul,/ How does he know?/ What spirit comes to move my life?/ Is there another way to go?” (Les Misérables, “What Have I Done?” lines 30-37). Because Jean Valjean was offered mercy by the priest, he commits another act of rebellion and rips up his parole. Guy Imhoff, the author of the article Games of shadow and light in The Miserables of Victor Hugo, writes “Jean Valjean, who, at the beginning of the story, is in trouble is a perfect example of the continual struggle of good versus bad,” (paragraph 14). He had been a convict for nineteen years and had been treated terribly- taking his anger out on anyone he could and stealing to survive. Now, he had been given the gift of redemption and decided to become a new man, not tied to the law any longer. He changed his name and moved to a town where he was so well-respected by the people that they elected him mayor after several years. Inspector Javert, the man who had been looking for Valjean for breaking his parole came to the new town and suspected that the mayor was Valjean. However, Valjean, now Monsieur Le Maire Mr. Mayor, lied to Javert and did not reveal his identity- rebelling against the law once again.Because Jean Valjean rebelled against the superstructure of the government on several occasions, he was changed into a better person. Javert learned that the authorities had arrested who was believed to be Jean Valjean. He apologized to Monsieur Le Maire for accusing him of being a convict and offered the mayor to strip him of his Police Inspector title. The mayor forgave Inspector Javert and let him go with his authority. The true Valjean gave up his guaranteed safety by letting Javert walk away. Monsieur Le Maire had to decide if he was going to give up his safe life and prosperous, new town or save an innocent man from death. In An overview of Les Miséreables, the author writes,  “After a long night of hesitation–to accuse Champmathieu the one believed to be Valjean would save him from Javert, to keep silent would send an innocent man to death–Valjean decides to confess his true identity to save the wrongly accused man. When the unyielding Javert arrests him, Valjean escapes, beginning a long hunt,” (“Part I”, paragraph 5). Valjean contemplated with saving his own life or the innocent man’s. He could have made his life simple by walking away and be rid of the law forever, however, as Michael Hoffheimer says in his article titled Jean Valjean’s Nightmare, “No legal duty requires him to save the stranger.” For the second time, Valjean could have guaranteed a safe life for the remainder of his days; instead, he offered mercy. The Inspector became enraged and continued to chase down Valjean. He hunted for years and when he eventually found him, the roles of the two men had been reversed and Jean Valjean was in the position to kill Javert. Instead of killing him, Valjean gave him his life just as the priest did for him so long ago. Javert said, “Who is this man?/What sort of devil is he?/To have caught me in a trap/And choose to let me go free?/It was his hour at last/To put a seal on my fate/Wipe out the past/And wash me clean off the slate!/All it would take/Was a flick of his knife/Vengeance was his/And he gave me back my life!” (Les Misérables, “Javert’s Suicide” lines 1-12). Inspector Javert was shocked that he was not killed by Valjean. He had treated him so poorly when he was in prison and then had chased him down for his whole life, yet Valjean had not ended his life. Javert was a man who lived by the law and did not break rules and originally would not have acknowledged an act so kind of a convict. However, he did not understand why Valjean had offered him mercy so many times so he committed suicide by drowning in the Seine River to escape the world that was not always right and wrong. The rebellion that Valjean chose to have in the beginning of the story made him into a better man by giving him the discernment between right and wrong. Victor Hugo wrote, “Is there not in every human soul, was there not in the soul of John Valjean in particular, a first spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world, immortal in the other, that good can develop, fan, ignite, ignite and radiate splendidly, and that evil can never completely extinguish?” (p 96) This powerful line from the book shows the good that overtook Valjean from the single act of kindness shown to him from the priest. He had had a terrible life in prison and had been mistreated his whole life until he was rescued by the priest where he was shown love and was given a reason to live. These simple things helped him get through all of his many obstacles. Even though he spent his life running from the law Inspector Javert and had to endure many hardships, he was able to forgive his opponents and die in peace as a new man.


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