Les Miserables ~ The Theme of Redemption

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“We are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?). People do bad things - it’s human nature. It is how these wrongs are fixed that make a person truly remarkable. People have strived to make themselves better and are always searching for ways to fix the things they did wrong. This idea of redemption is especially evident in Victor Hugo’s classic, Les Miserables. Les Miserables, is based in the post French Revolutionary period and through the events in the story, characters such as Jean Valjean and Javert are tried and tested. Many characters within this French epic commit their lives to redeeming themselves, Jean Valjean and Javert are only two examples of those who seek redemption. In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo uses symbolism, characterization, and archetypes to develop the theme of redemption.
Victor Hugo astutely uses symbols to represent many of the characters’ endeavors for redemption. When Jean Valjean is first released he seeks shelter at Digne, where he meets Bishop Myriel. Despite the kindness of the Bishop, known to many as Monseigneur Bienvenu, Jean Valjean steals from him. Jean Valjean pilfers objects of high value, like silver, but the gendarme eventually catch and return him to the Bishop. Monseigneur Bienvenu acts as if he is not surprised by the stealing and goes on to tell the gendarme that he had given the silver to Jean Valjean. The Bishop goes on to take “the two candlesticks ...‘Now,’ said the bishop,, ‘go in peace’...‘Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man” (Hugo 34). The two silver candlesticks are symbolic of redemption and mark the beginning of Jean Valjean’s ch...

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... in a true act of redemption confesses his true identity even though it would ruin his new life as mayor. Ironically, both fire and water are used as archetypes to show redemption. When Jean Valjean escapes from Toulon by “falling” off the Orion, he is reborn from his old-life as a convict. He uses this opportunity for redemption by keeping his promise to Fantine and taking Cosette. Ascent is used as an archetype when Jean Valjean saves Cosette and himself by scaling the wall. As they ascend higher and higher, it becomes evident that Jean Valjean is changing. He is no longer a convict, but both a mother and father figure to Cosette. Jean Valjean loves and protects Cosette no matter what it costs him. In conclusion, Victor Hugo presents the fault in human society that we do do bad things - even good people, but it is how people fix their wrongs that they are redeemed.

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