Sunday, October 22, 2006

"To love another person is to see the face of God"


Les Misérables is a story of how love could redeem us. Its message has been heard countless times across centuries and generations, a testament to the goodness in all of humankind.

The readers are introduced to the Jean Valjean and his journey towards moral redemption. The word "misérables" means all the miserable people on earth: the poor, villains and criminals whose lives are woven into the gloomy tapestry of Paris. When Valjean was imprisoned for five years which interestingly became thirteen years when he tried to escape, Jean Valjean developed a great hatred against society in general. He got arrested when he stole a load of bread to feed his malnourished brothers and sisters. Because he doesn't represent any value to society, he was taken advantage of hence the five (to thirteen) years imprisonment. Through the simple prejudice of Jean Valjean's life, the story showed the injustices of the lawful process which is supposed to protect us.

"It is society buying a slave. From misery, from hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a bit of bread. Misery makes the offer, society accepts."

Jean Valjean escapes the second time but no one took him in because he was a convict. When he decided to sleep on the sidewalk, a woman directed him into a household where he quickly went. When the door opened he was astounded that an old bishop named Myriel and his gentle sister Mademoiselle Baptistine took him without hesitation. Jean Valjean felt that it was all too much, "Everytime he said the word 'Monsieur' with his gentle, solemn and heartily hospitable manner, the man's countenance lightened up. 'Monsieur' to a convict is like a glass of water to a man dying of thirst at sea."

But although Jean Valjean was grateful, he robbed the bishop with his silver plates. He got caught by two officers and he was brought back to the bishop. But the bishop claimed that he gave him the silver plates himself! He put a hand on Jean Valjean's forehead amd said, "You belong to no longer evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition and give it to God!"

Even from the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean was not evil in nature. But he condemned society and even believed that even providence itself became impious. No one but the Bishop Myriel actually accepted him as a real person. And as soon as he steps out of the house, Jean Valjean decided he will become a new man. After Jean Valjean adopted a new name and a new life, he went to serve as a town mayor under the name of Monsieur Madeleine and there he met the young mother Fantine.

Fantine became a victim of her circumstances. Taken advantage of by society and twisted beyond recognition, she was just a pure-hearted person who was reduced into a pitiful soul in just a short span of time in the chapters. One scene showed Fantine was accused of attacking a rich man in the street. The police were already biased against her, and were quick to condemn her for the simple fact that a prostitute assaulted a respectable citizen. Fantine has "endured all, borne all, experienced all, and suffered all, lost all, wept for all. She is resigned but with resignation that resembles indifference as death resembles sleep." Jean Valjean understood Fantine and related strongly to her situations which is why he felt the need to save her and the daughter she gave away named Cosette. It was by becoming a parent himself that Valjean's redemption came full-circle. For a long time Valjean believed that he was wretched, and that his spiritual disease is incurable. Hugo shows that even a man like that can manage to love and be loved again.

On his death bed, Jean Valjean told Cosette and her husband Marius to "Love one another. There is nothing stronger in this world than love," and that's because "To love another person is to see the face of God."

Les Misérables is a timeless piece of work. Although it is set in the old times, the story can still be applied to the world today. It's the mirror of all the beautiful and terrible things in life. There is a Valjean in all of us; a person who has done everything to survive in life and was accused of terrible deeds that after a while he became convinced that he is beyond saving; but then kindness took him by the hand and showed him a better way to live; a life where he could fight for the people he loves.

RECOMMENDED: 10/10
* "So long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like these cannot be useless." -Preface from Hauteville House, 1862

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