Les Miserables

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Putting Others Before One's Self In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, one of the themes is how people placed in critical situations act upon their instincts. In the story, Jean Valjean is an ex-convict, looking to turn his life around after breaking his probation and running from the law. He becomes the mayor of M_ sur M_ and there encounters his enemy, Javert. Javert, a police inspector, is looking for Jean Valjean. Throughout the book, Javert and Jean Valjean meet several times. Another character, Marius is a young republican seeking the love and marriage of Cosette, who happens to be Jean Valjean's adopted daughter. He is a bold and courageous young man. The main theme in Les Miserables is that in threatening or desperate situations people (such as Jean Valjean, Javert and Marius) rely on their instincts in making the right choice, and putting others before themselves.

Jean Valjean's basic instinct is to help others, before he helps himself.

Since he promises the bishop that he will do good with the silver. He tries to fulfill his promise everyday of his life. When he hears father Fauchelevent moaning for help, because he is trapped underneath a wagon, Jean Valjean (in his early fifties) springs into action, "Then , without saying a word, he fell on his knees, and even before the crowd had time to utter a cry, he was under the cart"¦ The devotion of one man had given strength and courage to all." (190). In an atmosphere such as this, Jean Valjean's actions are heroic. He didn't stop to think of his own health, or of his own well being. Jean Valjean is concentrated on Fauchelevent; he reacted on his own judgement, knowing that he had to help. Later during the time that Marius is at the barricade, he is shot and badly wounded. Jean Valjean knows how much Cosette loves Marius, so Jean Valjean runs to Marius and rescues him. Hugo writes, "Jean Valjean, in the thick cloud of the combat, did not appear to see Marius; the fact is that he did not take his eyes from him. When a shot struck down Marius, Jean Valjean bounded with the agility of a tiger, dropped upon him as upon a prey, and carried him away," (389). Once again Jean Valjean risks his own life to save Marius for Cosette. He did not even hesitate and went through the line of fire to save Marius.

Javert too, does what he feels is right. Javert lives by the law and has molded his life style in such a way. He feels that he has incorrectly accused Monsieur Madeleine (one of Jean Valjean's false names) as the convict Jean Valjean who served in his galleys twenty years before. He tells Monsieur Madeleine, ""¦"˜I ought to be dismissed"¦Monsieur Mayor, I cannot agree to that. I have unjustly suspected you.'" (196-197). Javert does what the law says, so when he has done wrong, he feels that the law should punish him because that is his life style. When Javert finally catches Jean Valjean, he decides to let him go. Hugo really never explains why, but it can be because in Javert's heart he knows that he is doing the right thing by letting Jean Valjean go. Hugo describes Javert's thoughts, "To owe life to a malefactor, to accept that debt and to pay it, to be, in spite of himself, on a level with a fugitive from justice, and to pay him for one service with another service; to allow him to say, "˜Go away,' and to say to him in turn, "˜Be free"; to sacrifice duty, that general obligation, to personal motives, and to feel in these personal motives something general also, and perhaps superior; to betray society in order to be true to his own conscience"¦" (p. 409). Javert knows that he let Jean Valjean go because he feels that it is the right thing to do, but he cannot comprehend why he did it now.

Marius is a symbol of bravery and good judgement, because of his instinct in difficult situations. Marius' displays when he volunteers to blow up the barricade, and sacrifice his own life for the republic. One of the soldiers says, "'Blow up the barricade!' said a sergeant, "˜And yourself also!' Marius answered, "˜And myself also.'" (366). Marius analyzes the situation and understands that he is helping the republic by blowing up the barricade. In another instance Marius' reveals good judgement when he is the predicament of firing the pistol over the dispute between the Thenadier and Monsieur LeBlanc. Marius sees the note that Eponine has written in her earlier visit that day. Hugo describes the moment, "An idea, a flash crossed Marius' mind"¦and threw the whole through the crevice into the middle of the den," (313). Instead of getting Thenadier in trouble with the police by firing the pistol, Marius comes up with a clever plan. He does not jeopardize his future relationship with Monsieur LeBlanc (one of Jean Valjean's fake names). Marius also still remains loyal to his father by keeping his promise to do all the good he can for Thenadier, he tries to help them avoid arrest.

In desperate situations people make the right decisions, that more often than not, put others before themselves. Jean Valjean is an example of this, because he risks his life for Fauchelevent when he lifted the wagon off of him. Jean Valjean also rescues Marius from the barricade for Cosette's happiness. Javert always lives by the law, even though he knows Monsieur Madeleine is Jean Valjean, he asked Jean Valjean to denounce him as punishment, for his assumption. When Javert finally catches Jean Valjean, he decides to let him go, because he decides to stop living by the law and to do listen to his conscience. Marius displays his ability to make the right decisions by his bravery and cleverness. Marius' bravery displays his willingness to sacrifice himself for others; he volunteers to blow up the barricade and himself. Marius also encounters an odd situation between Thenadier and Monsieur LeBlanc and does not know what to do, so he devises a plan in which neither one of them will be punished by his actions. Further more, in life, people have a responsibility to help each other and unselfishness is the best way to do it. This is the most important of all of life's lessons; to be responsible in situations that can affect others as well as yourself, but to also remember to think of others before yourself.