Les Miserablesy by Victor Hugo: Jean Valjean, An Angel in hell...

Essay by neel_shahA+, May 2002

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Les Miserables is a story of redemption, forgiveness, charity, salvation and moral obligation. The main character, Jean Valjean, enters the novel as a thief, having spent nineteen years in prison. He is given this second chance by M. Myriel, a prominent bishop, who offers Jean Valjean food and lodging, and by doing so he paves the way for Jean Valjean to live a life of financial prosperity and renewed spiritual faith. Jean Valjean poses as M. Madeleine in this pure and natural life but soon comes across a dilemma. Jean Valjean has to choose "to remain in paradise and there become a demon!" or "to reenter into hell and there become an angel" (p. 84)! Through this conflict, Hugo proposes two kinds of life: the life of a comfortable, wealthy man with few moral obligations and the life of a struggling, but ultimately virtuous convict. Through this conflict, Hugo expresses Jean Valjean"s inner turmoil and his ultimate choice to trade material comfort for moral comfort and selfishness for selflessness.

In this paradise that Jean Valjean lives in, he takes on the role of M. Madeleine, a prosperous mayor, who brings wealth to the entire region of which he governs. He is very generous to the poor, has a good conscience, and seems always to be calm. One day Fauchelevent, an old man, falls under his cart and is unable to get out. M. Madeleine goes under the cart and risks his life for this old man. M. Madeleine also saves Fantine from time in jail. Javert sentences her for defending herself from someone who taunts her because of her looks.

Despite all of these acts of goodness, Jean Valjean has done little to reconcile the real moral and legal dilemmas in his life, and they eventually begin to...