Free Study Guide for Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: "Les Mis"|
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LES MISERABLES BY VICTOR HUGO: FREE LITERARY ANALYSIS / SUMMARY
Thenardier is the epitome of evil. A continuous bane to Valjean, he
is also the chief representative of the worst elements of French society.
He is the product of laws that turn misdemeanors into major felonies,
the outcome of a society where the honest poor can barely survive. His
own lack of character leads him into a life of crime where his style of
living is even worse than simply being poor. Yet, he is clever. He has
the intelligence to rise above his circumstances, but chooses to use it
for criminal ends.
Old Gillenormand is the one of the last of the old Bourgeois and is proud of it. He pretends that he is loyal to the old politics, but in reality it is the lifestyle that he misses. He loved the old extravagances, the lavish parties, the frolick of the popular and dashing courtier and was apparently one of them prior to the revolution. The probability of children who carry his genes if not his name is significant enough to prevent him from denying support to women who claim to have his children.
His primary indulgence is in his grandson whose father made the mistake
of devoting himself to the cause and army of Napoleon. For Marius to inherit
a title, which had been given by someone Gillenormand views as an upstart
imposter is the most unbearable of insults. Nevertheless, the old man’s
primary weakness is also his grandson’s-sheer stubbornness. He is not
willing to accept change especially when it seems centered in his own
household where he cannot ignore it.
Javert is another type. As a character, he is static and relatively
flat in that he is capable of thinking from only one perspective. He also
is unable to cope with change especially where his personal values are
concerned. He is neither good nor evil; he is simply the embodiment of
the law, an entity that never questions itself and that proceeds to enact
its own precepts without concern for its victims. His pursuit of Valjean
is as close as he comes to making a vendetta personal, for to him Valjean
represents an element which lives outside the law, and although little
or no crime is committed, there is a lack of control which Javert sees
as a threat to the guiding principle of his life.
Marius’ primary purpose in the novel is to lure Cosette away from Valjean
and to bring Valjean to the point of ultimate self denial and self sacrifice.
Throughout the novel he is immature if not somewhat shallow. He grows
up quickly when forced to make a decision whether to go on moping in self
pity or to take action in a cause. Even then, if he had not believed he
had lost Cosette, it is doubtful whether he would have become involved
in the insurrection. He cares for his friends but has been raised in a
sheltered environment and is spoiled. He does not understand the political
ideals of the ABC anymore than he does those of Napoleon. He idolizes
the glory of Napoleon for the sake of the glory and is likewise in love
with love as much as he is with Cosette. She is for him the angel of submission
and will adore him blindly without ever asking him justify his desires
or opinions. Marius is probably the weakest character in the novel, but
is non-the-less a catalyst for Valjean’s salvation.
Valjean is the main character of the book. He is what 20th century critics call an “anti-hero” in that he is an ordinary person who exerts extraordinary effort to not only survive, but to protect and defend those who are weaker than himself. In his self-sacrifice and his “lamb to the slaughter” image, he resembles Christ. In other ways he closely resembles Job in that he first considers himself a victim but gradually sees his own fault and becomes repentant and humble. His fate is severe because he is on the edge of social change. As a type he represents those who inspire change but are also the victim of its resistance.
Because he lacked a close family relationship, his ability to love, to chose right from wrong, to defend the helpless, and to give even to those who did not deserve it all emerge from within his own being. He is as intelligent as Thenardier but uses his brains for good instead of evil. In fact, we could say that the two men are born into similar circumstances and that but for the intervention of the bishop, Valjean could have gone the way of evil. In fact, he would have had more reason than Thenardier to do so as his yellow passport would forever mark him as a convict. Javert, knowing he could not live a normal life under his true identity, apparently expected him to become a part of the criminal element of Paris and therefore hounded him to the point of persecution to try to pin some new crime on him and have him returned to the galleys for life. Valjean’s success in evading recapture is a result of constant vigilance as well as care in maintaining his anonymity.
Valjean also represents a sense of independence, a noble defiance of man’s
law in favor of God’s law. Hugo alludes repeatedly to religious influences
and to the presence of God in the life of Valjean. And it is the laws
of God that seem to be asserting themselves for Javert when the human
law fails him.
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Ruff, Dr. Karen S. C., D. A.. "TheBestNotes on Les Miserables".
. 09 May 2017