Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper

Type of paper: Term Paper

Topic: Crime, Coin, Life, Transformation, Incident, Social Issues, Theft, Conscience

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/10/17

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a tale of the tragic protagonist, Jean Valjean, an innately good and altruistic human being who undergoes untold hardship, humiliation, punishment and redemption due to a host of reasons. He loses 19 years of his life as a convict for trying to steal a loaf of bread to feed his hungry cousin. Although the sentence is only for 5 years, it gets extended as he tries to escape from the prison many times. After his release and futile attempt to get food, he is given food and a place to stay by the bishop of Digne. It is here that Jean Valjean undergoes his first transformation in life. Even though he is overwhelmed by the hospitality of the bishop, Valjean’s actions are dictated by his past life as a prisoner. Thinking about how he can sustain himself by stealing the Bishop’s silver plate, he walks away with them the next morning. He gets caught but the bishop saves him by telling the police that it was a gift. The Bishop realizes the circumstance of Valjean and not only forgives him but blesses him. Valjean is completely transformed and vows to tread the path of the good and righteous. However soon after he leaves the Bishop’s house, he mistakenly comes to the silver coin of petit Gervais. The not-intentional theft of the coin comes back to haunt him years later and sows the seed for his second transformation.
Valjean leads a good life, eventually becoming a mayor and helping people through his factory. But this comes to an end with the Champmathieu affair, when a thief with his name is to be executed for the coin theft that Valjean committed years ago. Although Valjean could get away with it if he does not come forward, he battles with himself and finally gives in to fate. The innate goodness in Valjean does not let him be in peace when someone else is to be punished for his crime. Giving up himself to the police, he undergoes an intense transformation once again. Hugo says that this change in Valjean was more than just a transformation, it was a transfiguration. The corruption in Valjean was not inborn but rather brought on by the condemnation of a society which does not accept a thief. The intense transformations that Valjean undergoes are as a result of his failure to forgive himself.
When Valjean is caught by the police for stealing the silver plate, the bishop instead of turning him over to the police saves him. The Bishop’s motives for his actions are definite and certain. The bishop while handing over Valjean’s knapsack adds a pair of silver candle sticks too and he says to Valjean, “Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man. . . . Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I am withdrawing it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I am giving it to God (Hugo 63).” This act of the bishop and his blessing has a profound effect on him. His conscience takes him over completely and he is perplexed by the actions of the bishop. Leaving the house consumed in his own thoughts, Valjean steps on the silver coin of Petit Gervais. Tormented by his thoughts and not realizing that he had stepped on the coin, he fails to understand the boy and unintentionally scares him away. Once he comes to his senses he ponders about the role he played in the incident and worries about his complicity in the act. Deeply troubles, Valjean is later found outside the Bishop’s house remorseful and praying. He also vows to stay on the straight and with the exception of changing his name and living under an assumed identity he lives according to the canons of faith and the laws that govern the society.
When Champmathieu is mistaken for Valjean and taken to trial, his conscience starts bothering him again. Although he now lives under a false name and is a respected mayor he cannot let another guy lose his life for his mistake. Not coming clean about his past life would have meant that Valjean would have no longer been encumbered by his past. He could have not said anything but something that Inspector Javert says sets him thinking. Javert when talking about Champmathieu says that his ignorance did not serve as a mask for the other crime he had committed early in his life. Valjean is tempted to keep quiet but his conscience does not let him do so and he is tormented by the thought that hi silence would lead to another man being punished for a crime that he did. His internal dilemma consumes him and he looks at the objects that he still has with him; the silver candlesticks and the coin from petit Gervais. The candle sticks remind him of the inspiration for his transformation and the coin a reminder that after all these years he still has not returned it to the young boy. His keeping the coin was not because he did not want to, but because after a fruitless search in the countryside he could not find the little boy. It was not returned for lack of intention nor effort but circumstances.
When contemplating if he should talk to the inspector Valjean becomes aware of the two ideas which had taken centre stage in his life for so long. The first idea was concealing his name and start on a clean slate and the second sanctifying his soul. But the Champmathieu affair makes him realize that these two ideas are not to the same purpose but are distinct. Hugo says that, “The two ideas which had been hitherto the double rule of his life: to conceal his name and to sanctify his soul. For the first time, they appeared to him absolutely distinct, and he saw the difference which separated them. He recognized that one of these ideas was necessarily good, while the other might become evil; the former was devotion, and that the latter was selfishness; that the one said ‘neighbor’, and that the other said: ‘me’; that the one came from the light and the other from the night (Hugo 161).” Unable to take the torment of his conscience anymore he decides to turn himself in so that his soul would be secure too. However an impediment to his decision comes in the form of Fantine, someone who he sees as a kindred soul and whose daughter he promises to get back for her. If not for him (in case he goes back to prison) Fantine would go back to prison and the child would be left without anyone.
Valjean is someone who believes that helping those in need is the highest form of goodness and by going to prison he would not be able to do good to her. He attempts to convince himself of not coming clear as all the good that he had done should lessen the punishment that he needs to suffer. But tiring of the incessant turmoil in himself he leaves everything to fate and decides that he would go to the trial and if anything impedes hi decision he would resign himself to it. Although there are roadblocks on his way to the courthouse, there are also an equal number of opportunities for him to continue his journey. By the time he reaches the trail there is no doubt left and he reveals his true identity to the inspector.
While his complete transformation after the incident with the bishop is understandable, the transformation that he goes through during the Champmathieu affair is not. When he stole the silver plates from the bishop it was a premeditated act. It was not impulsive like his first crime. His first crime of trying to steal bread was impulsive and was to help his cousin. But the theft in the bishop’s house was well thought out and was a selfish act. The bishop’s forgiveness and kindness transforms him and his is truly ashamed of what he had done. But the petit Gervais incident which eventually leads to the Champmathieu affair is different. Valjean did not steal the coin from the kid but came to it by mistake. Even though he is not to blame for theft, this incident leaves him with a feeling of self loathing. The transformation that Valjean goes through in saving Champmathieu is partly to get out of this self loathing. Even though he knows that he is innocent of the crime, Valjean cannot let another person suffer the consequences of his actions. There is however a certain ambiguity in the theft of the coin. One is that there was a remnant of the convict in Valjean that made him step on the coin on purpose. To this effect, Hugo writes that, “He could not have explained it, surely; it was the final effect, the final effort of the evil thoughts he had brought from the galleys, a remnant of impulse . . . It was not he who had stolen, it was the beast which, from habit and instinct, had stupidly set its foot upon that money, while the intellect was struggling in the midst of so many new and unknown influences (Hugo 67).” But Hugo also goes on to say that Valjean was not inherently evil. When Valjean steps on the coin he was wrestling with too many thoughts in his head and his action was totally alien to his nature. “In stealing this money from that child, he had done a thing of which he was no longer capable (Hugo 68).”
A premeditated act and another that he was not entirely to blame. The incident with the bishop transforms him to go on the straight and whatever he thought was stripped away from him and what he imagined to be the debt of the society to him in turn became his debt to the bishop due to his act of kindness. That incident completely changes him and he grow into a man that he was before he went to prison; an altruistic good person. The Champmathieu affair also leads to an intense transformation. Even at the risk of losing Fantine and Cossete he decides to do what is good and right. He realizes that he can no longer be monsieur Madeleine if he has to live in peace with his conscience. True to the bishops blessing he uses these incident to get closer to god and be a good man.

Works Cited

Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. Trans. C.E. Wilbur. New York: Barnes and Nobles classics, 2003. Print.

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WePapers. (2020, October, 17) Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/
"Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper." WePapers, 17 Oct. 2020, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/. Accessed 19 April 2021.
WePapers. 2020. Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper., viewed April 19 2021, <https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/>
WePapers. Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper. [Internet]. October 2020. [Accessed April 19, 2021]. Available from: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/
"Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper." WePapers, Oct 17, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2021. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/
WePapers. 2020. "Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper." Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. Retrieved April 19, 2021. (https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/).
"Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper," Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com, 17-Oct-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/. [Accessed: 19-Apr-2021].
Example Of Les Miserables Term Paper. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-les-miserables-term-paper/. Published Oct 17, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2021.

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