Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables is a captivating French novel, which follows the life of an unfortunate man named Jean Valijean. Jean Valijean is an escaped prisoner, who was convicted for stealing a loaf of bread. Valijean makes many escape attempts from jail, and comes in contact with many different characters, including Javert, the police officer who is desperately trying to catch him, as well as Fantine, the mother of a young girl named Cosette, who Valijean eventually adopts as his own daughter. Throughout the book, Valijean takes on many different, "personalities," in an attempt to escape the law and regain his life. In the end, Valijean struggles with having to give up his daughter to Marius, her beloved, and eventually works himself into a state, becoming malnourished and very ill. Immediately before his death, Valijean prays to see Cosette one last time, and as he is doing so, she and Marius enter, showering him with love and thanking him for his goodness to them. With his prayer answered, Valijean is content, and dies happy.

Les Misérables is a believable book in many areas. One example of the mimetic quality of Les Misérables is in the struggle of Fantine. Fantine becomes pregnant by a wealthy student, who eventually abandons her. Desperately trying to find work, Fantine returns to her hometown, only to realize that no one will take her if she has an illegitimate child. Thinking only of her daughter's well-being, Fantine leaves her with a family on her way to town, with the promise of paying the family a monthly allowance for her daughter's shelter. This makes the book believable because of the way in which single mothers were treated in the 1700s. The fact that she was so looked down upon ultimately caused Fantine to lose her daughter and resort to prostitution to make ends meet. A second mimetic element of Les Misérables is in the Setting. Victor Hugo gives excellent examples of town and street names throughout the book. This makes the book more believable because the settings used the book actually exist. For example, when speaking of Fantine's journey home, the book gives the name, "Montfermeil," which is an actual region in France. One way in which Les Misérables was not as mimetic was with the many different characters played by Jean Valijean.

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During the book, Valijean took on numerous identities in order to remain hidden from the police officer, Javert. For example, Valijean desperately tries to re-invent himself, and to become a better man by starting his life over as, "Father Madeline." Eventually, Valijean gives away his identity because another man had been falsely accused for Valijean's crimes. So, being caught, he was forced to return to jail only to escape again, and to become yet another man.

There are several lessons that can be learned from the story of Les Misérables. One such didactic quality is in the ultimate reward for doing good. Throughout Les Misérables, Jean Valijean is tormented and disliked, when all he really wants is to be happy and to be free. Valijean gives money to the poor on many occasions, as well as anonymously helping anyone he comes across who is in need. In the book, Valijean is said to have done, "a multitude of good deeds as secretly as bad ones are usually done." In the end, it seems that Valijean will be once again overlooked for all of his well doings, but eventually, they are discovered, and he receives praise for his good deeds. Another important didactic element is in the honesty of Jean Valijean. An example of this is during Valijean's existence as Father Madeline. Madeline is loved by all, and is an upright citizen, who even becomes the mayor of Montfermeil. He has fooled everyone into his new identity, even the police officer, Javert. Everything seems to be going right for Madeline until he learns of a man who is being wrongfully accused for Valijean's crimes. Father Madeline, in his honesty, goes to the man's trial and turns himself in as being the actual Jean Valijean. This honesty shows great character in Valijean, and is very respectable. A third didactic element in Les Misérables is in the importance of compassion toward others. An example of this element is in the character of Monsieur Myriel, the bishop of Digne. Myriel is the man with whom Valijean first becomes acquainted after his leave from jail. Desperately trying to find a place to rest, Valijean is repeatedly refused shelter because of his criminal history. Finally, Valijean comes upon the house of Monsieur Myriel, who willingly takes him in, and shows him great kindness and consideration. The bishop immediately becomes the most influential character on Valijean. His kindness is the driving force in Valijean's decision to turn his life around.

Les Misérables has many excellent aesthetic qualities. One example of this is with the in depth descriptions given throughout the book. Hugo does an excellent job of explaining details of important settings in order to give the reader a clear idea of what is going on in each part of the book. One such description is that of the, "Rue Droit Mur," in which Valijean hides to escape from Javert. Hugo uses an entire chapter to explain Valijean's surroundings, going as far as the length of the walls, and the corners in which he could hide. A second aesthetic component of Les Misérables is that of the excellent characterizations. When reading this book, one becomes very involved with each character that is presented. One very interesting example of this is the way in which Hugo brings each of the characters together at different times. Each chapter tells a story, and introduces a character, only to have him encounter another story and character that is presented later in the book. This element helps to keep the reader's attention. A third good aesthetic quality of Les Misérables is in the use of literary elements, such as foreshadowing. During Valijean's existence as Father Madeline, the book is not totally clear that he is, in fact, Jean Valijean. Hugo does give the reader numerous hints, which allows him to draw his own conclusion about the identity of Father Madeline. One example of this foreshadowing is in the event of a horse cart falling on a man named Father Fauchelevent. None of the bystanders have the strength to lift the cart, so Madeline himself completes the great task of lifting the cart. Javert, who is in the crowd, makes the comment that he had, "only known one man who was capable of such a feat, and that man was a convict." This gives the reader a hint of Madeline's false identity.

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