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Les Miserables - Reconciliation between a Man and Himself

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Les Miserables - Reconciliation between a Man and Himself

 

The ending of the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables, contains a
reconciliation between a man and himself, and his family.  This is, in
many ways, the entire purpose of the book.  Goodness or saintliness can be achieved,
 despite difficult or unwholesome beginnings.  This theme is an enduring one,
because of both its truth and its presentation.  Fay Weldon may as well have been
 describing Les Miserables when she said "The writer, I do believe, who get the best
and most lasting response from readers are the writers who offer happy endings
 through moral development .... some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral
 reconciliation, even with the self, even at death."
 The hero Jean Valjean undergoes quite the transformation throughout the
 course of his story.  He begins as a criminal and convict with absolutely
no scruples.  A kindly prelate forgives him after a theft, and simply turns
the other cheek.  This act of unexpected generosity inspires Valjean to turn his
life around, and for the most part, he succeeds in doing so.  He becomes a wealthy
 respected philanthropist, but doing so puts him in a conspicuous position.  The
 merciless police officer Javert hounds him until his existence is discovered and he
in again incarcerated.  By this time, Valjean has involved himself with a young
girl and become her father figure of sorts.  He makes a daring escape from jail,
and is able to hide from the law with his "daughter", Cossette.  Valjean settles down
 for a good while, until Cossette grows up.  By that time, a terrible plot is
 brewing against Valjean due to his past, and a revolution is underway.  Of course,
 the hero is undamaged throughout his experiences, and emerges on top.  His problems
 revolve around Cossette: she, as ignorant of Valjean's past as she is of
 hers, falls in love for a handsome if somewhat callow revolutionary.  Valjean feels in
 necessary to be completely honest with his new "son in law", so his life
 story is divulged.  Marius gradually limited his wife's visits with the convict,
 despite all that had been between them.  At the last minute, on Valjean's deathbed,
 Marius and Cossette visit and forgive the poor sinner before he dies overwhelmed
 with love and gratitude for his life.
 This entire novel builds on the idea that even the most imperfect man can
 reform.  Valjean does not complete his transformation until the very end,
 but perhaps the realization of all that he underwent to achieve it heightens
the emotions.  All of his terrible struggles and misdeeds and regrets seem to
 vanish in the face of the blind love he is at last the recipient of.  Love is a
 powerful thing, and fortunately for poor Valjean, it was enough.  He was finally able to
 forgive himself and live as much life as possible in the moment before he died.
If such an ending had not taken place, the entire book would be affected.  No longer
 would it contain such a grand theme.  Instead, it would be about unfulfilled dreams
 of goodness.  In a way, the reader needs the death scene to evoke the strong
 feelings that it does, and to really care about Valjean.
 Victor Hugo's Les Miserables really illustrates the appeal of forgiveness
 and acceptance in society with the beautiful death of Jean Valjean.
 Absolute goodness is achievable.  Nothing is out of grasp.  All of these themes are
 as relevant today as when they were written.  The happy ending simply ties
 everything together and provides denouement.  The book would not be the
same without it though, so it is a rather essential feature in the story.  We
all must live, die, and love, and Valjean does all three with unique character and seemin
g grace.
 There are far worse examples to follow than his.

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